I was not bare in bed, but a bear sure came *near* my bed!

“Remember now. What’s the first thing you do if you see a bear on the trail?”

“Take its picture!”

It’s a silly little ha-ha routine we do each time one of us goes hiking without the other, and it never gets old, because we are total derps.

But when it finally happened, we were on a backpacking trip together, and the photo came second. Maybe even third.

I’d just crawled into the tent and zipped myself snugly into my sleeping bag, while Tim was still outside buttoning down our campsite for the night.

Thump. Whump.

The noise came from the brush about 40 feet from our tent, and Tim walked toward it to investigate.

The perpetrator had gone at a large tree stump, probably in search of grubs.  Tim locked eyes with him for a hot second, then turned toward me and said, “It’s a bear!” And that was enough commotion to make the bear rethink his position, so he started moving away at a pretty good clip, which is when Tim finally followed directions, and took a picture.

A bear!
For real, y’all.

No, we do not know for sure that the bear was male. We based our assumption on information we were given at the ranger’s station when we registered for our camping permit that morning. There’d been reports of a mama bear and two cubs in the area, as well as a lone juvenile male. Guessing ours was the latter.

So that’s the introduction to our most recent backpacking trip, August 27-29, in Olympic National Park. Of the three we’ve completed this month, this one offered the most jaw-dropping scenery, and the most wildlife sightings too!

Let’s go.

(Source: Google Maps)

Day 1: Orange path from Graves Creek Trailhead (A) to Enchanted Valley (B)
Day 2: Pink path from B to C and back
Day 3: Green path from B to A
Total mileage: about 40 (As usual, Tim’s app differed from my app, and the trail map gave us yet a third total, so we’ve guesstimated. Next time, maybe we’ll go old school and use our pedometers.) 
Read this for a thorough description of the trail between A & B.

There are camping areas along the way to Enchanted Valley, but we chose to hike it all in one go, and even went beyond the 13.5-mile mark to find our home for the next two nights.

Along the way, we saw a herd of elk…

… and several Sooty Grouse.
Wow, it’s a wonder these birds have survived. They are slow and they seem kind of dumb, and I think a person with a quick arm could probably just reach out and grab one.
Anyone who brags about hunting them really has nothing to brag about!

If a tree falls in the forest, and your husband stands in front of it, does it still… OMG look at the size of that tree!

We’d hiked more than 13 miles, I was exhausted and hungry and had lost faith that we were ever going get there.
And then we stepped out of the thickest part of the forest and realized immediately why it’s called Enchanted Valley.

This chalet was built in the 1930’s, and has served as a travelers’ hostel, a WWII aircraft warning station, a ranger’s station, and a hikers’ shelter. In 2014 the chalet was moved 100 feet from the rapidly encroaching Quinault River as an effort to save it from destruction, and it has been closed to the public. Its future is in doubt.
The most recent official document I could find on the subject is here.

We set up camp here. See our green tent there on the left? And Tim sitting against a rock, wearing his black jacket?

Our water source, the Quinault River

My peaceful view, just before bedtime. Which was bear time!

On Day 2, we hiked out of the valley and up toward O’Neill Pass.
That’s the face I make when there’s a lot of up.

But lots of up usually pays off in views like this…

… and this. The feet are mine. The snow patch is what remains of Anderson Glacier.

And look at me rocking the crossings this time!
(I had to crawl across one last time.)

 

We put in almost as many miles in two days as we’d put in over three days on our prior trips, and we still had about 15 miles to go the next day, so I spent some time with my feet up.
Way up.

Tried to work a little Ansel Adams magic with the trees.
Guessing my way’s easier than his was.
Click. Tap. Done.

Sunrise on our final morning, as we were breaking camp

As we were heading out, this team of pack mules was heading in.
The ranger was on her way to help a field crew of 5 Washington Conservation Corps workers pack out of the Valley.
We’d spoken to one of those kids the day before; they’d been doing trail maintenance for 6 months as part of their AmeriCorps service.

One last look back, hoping that someday we’ll go back.


Descriptions of our other two Washington backpacking adventures:

Where there’s fire, there’s smoke. A *lot* of smoke.

This week it was time for my second backpacking trip, another 2-night 3-day adventure.

Did you miss the first one? It had a regrettable ending, but hey, the photos were great!

Despite knowing that Western Washington would be congested with wildfire smoke during our outing, and that it would worsen each day, we opted to go anyway, knowing that if we waited for the perfect circumstances, we’d miss our window entirely. In only two more weeks, we’ve got to head back to Texas for our usual autumn round of visits.

We were hoping that we’d have cleaner air and better visibility once we got some elevation beneath us in the Mount Adams Wilderness, but as you’ll see below, that was not the case.

Mount Adams is right there. Get yourself about halfway between Portland and Seattle, then head east.

Day 1: Orange path from A to B
Day 2: Pink path from B to a point just west of The Hump, then back up to C
Day 3: Green path from C to A
Total mileage: 28.5

Point A: Killen Creek Trailhead, which we found after winding our way over a ridiculous number of bumpy forest service roads. The road that provided the most direct route was closed for construction, so we had to take a very elaborate detour.

The 12,280-foot peak of Mount Adams is right behind us, I swear.
The trail we were on was at about 6,000 feet, so it should have been imposingly visible.
Damn wildfire smoke.

Oh, there it is!
The air cleared just enough for a shadowy glimpse on our first evening.
The following two days? Not so much.

Campsite #1

Sunrise through the smoke, on Day 2

We filter our drinking and cooking water from clear, running streams.
Remember this for comparison.

This is a rushing river of glacial run-off, and you can see that it’s full of dirt particles and who knows what-all else that makes it murky. We could filter it and drink it if we had to, but… ew.

And after the river, an immense boulder field.
Wow, Mother Nature.

Evidence of death; evidence of new life

A hiking hippie chick showed me that wild blueberries were growing right next to the trail.
I ate about a dozen, and they were the blueberriest blueberries I’ve ever tasted!
Also? I have a feeling that hiking hippie chick could have shown me many other things I’ve never tried.

At the end of Day 2, I needed a rinse.
(OK, what I really needed was a hot bath with lots and lots of soap.)
This was yet another creek full of glacial runoff, but truth be told it was cleaner than I was, so I gave myself a quick splash-n-suds to the most offensive bits, and called it good enough.

And then I hung my clothes up to get some fresh air, convincing myself that the pines loved this chance to feel like Christmas trees.

A tale of two river crossings:
On Day 2, heading south, I crossed slowly, but upright until the very end, when I had to lean forward and brace myself with my hands for a few steps.
On Day 3, heading back northward, I lost my mojo. I knew I had to get across. I also knew that my confidence in my ability to maintain my balance was low.
So I got low.
And Tim — the only person around who could have helped me if I’d gone in the drink — made sure there was evidence. My hero.

We met this guy, trail name “Lost,” on Day 2. He’d been hiking the Pacific Crest Trail northbound since the end of March, from its start at the CA-Mexico border.
And he’d had enough of walking in smoke, which has been horrible for PCT hikers this season, ruining their views and clogging their lungs from northern California, all the way through Oregon and Washington. That’s about 1500 trail miles of misery, y’all.
In fact, parts of the trail have been closed, including the final stretch to the northern terminus.
We encountered many dejected northbound thru-hikers, trudging onward, knowing they will likely not be able to complete their journey the way they’d hoped.
“Lost” — who has also thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail and Camino de Santiago — was looking for a way to get off the trail and re-evaluate his options.
We told him we’d be heading back toward civilization the next day, and would happily give him a lift if he wanted to meet us at the trailhead where we’d parked the BFT.
He took us up on the offer, and even beat us to the parking lot the next morning!
And that’s when we learned that he’s also an Army veteran, wounded twice in combat (legs shattered by a suicide bomber; shot in the head) and medically retired after 10 years of service. #Hero
We know he’ll be just fine, and we’ll be following his Instagram just to make sure.

That would have been a perfect place to close… but then I rediscovered this hilarious evidence of my own hiking history.

Come with me back to 1979, for a rainy hike along the C&O canal with my Girl Scout troop in Frostburg, MD. My mom thought to take before and after photos, and look at my face.

The quality of my outdoor gear and attire has definitely changed for the better, but I still make that hopeful “Off we go” face when we set off, and the “Poor, pitiful me” one after a long or stressful venture.

Ah, the 1970’s.
That track suit was pure polyester, the canteen made whatever was in it taste like metal, and let’s not even speculate about my backpack and shoes. I’ve got way better gear now!

Coming up next: We’re relocating to the Olympic Peninsula today, and we hope to squeeze in one more (less smoky) backpacking trip in Olympic National Park before we point our nose back to Texas.

 

A virgin no longer: Emily’s first backpacking trip

I really didn’t think I’d ever do it.

Day hikes? Yes, please.

But… carrying all that extra stuff on my back and cuh-cuh-cuh-camping out? Overnight? With no shower at the end of a long hiking day? And having to… you know… in the woods?

I don’t think so.

Say hello to our backwoods poop kit.
1. Dig a hole at least 6″ deep. (That’s dirt on the trowel, y’all. Just dirt.)
2. Poop in it.
3. Use TP/wipes as needed.
4. Bury the human waste and biodegradable paper products.
5. Bag any non-biodegradable paper waste and carry it out.
6. Use hand sanitizer.

Backpacking has always been Tim’s thing. He’s been sending himself on long-distance walkabouts almost every year since he retired from the Navy in 2013, starting with a 3-month trip on the Pacific Crest Trail. He’s also done the entire John Muir Trail, parts of the Appalachian Trail, and a Grand Canyon down-n-up, among others.

I’ve always been the support person for these adventures, providing drop-offs and pick-ups at trail heads, mailing supply packages, and taking care of all the other things that need to happen when one’s spouse is temporarily living off the grid.

What made me change my mind? A combination of three things.

  1. Being in Washington for an extended period of time, with access to fantastic trails in both the Cascades and Olympics, during prime hiking season;
  2. Realizing that other than a proper pack for me, we had enough gear & supplies needed to outfit both of us safely; and
  3. Reminding myself yet again that life is short, so maybe I should fix my pony tail, set my squeamies aside, and find out what I’ve been missing.

    This.
    This would be one of the things I’d been missing.

So we bought me a big-girl pack, and we planned our first excursion: 3 days, 2 nights, about 27 trail miles.

Come along with us. The easy way.

Day 1:

We started there at the red pin, Tipsoo Lake, on August 6.
Thought you might like to see a map that shows where we were in relation to someplace you might recognize. Like Seattle.

Day 1 (orange): Parked at Tipsoo Lake (A) and camped for the night at Sheep Lake (B)
Day 2 (pink): Pacific Crest Trail to camp at Basin Lake (C)
Day 3 (green): Basin Lake alllll the way back to our Point A
Mileage by map: 23.4
Mileage by tracking app: 29.1.
Average of the two: 26.2 (Can I count this as my first marathon?)

Our home for the first night: Sheep Lake
Popular place.
We were definitely not alone. Lots of other campers, due to the fairly easy 2-mile hike from a main road.

We arrived mid-afternoon, and refilled our water containers from the stream that feeds the lake.
This is my “dirty bag” for collecting water, which I then filtered into…

This!
Delicious, cold, fresh and safe

That stream made for a good tootsie soak too, but only for a few seconds at a time. Icy!

One-pot dinner, served in…

… multi-use cup.
After a few minutes standing in hot water, that formerly dehydrated chicken breast looked and tasted like… dry chicken.

Home sweet tent.
It’s model name is Hubba Hubba, and we have made all the jokes.

Zipped in and ready for bed, yes, while it was still light out.
That 40-degree rated mummy bag? Nope. I got cold, even wearing jammies, and temps probably hovered around the mid-50’s.
We have since replaced it with a warmer bag.

Let’s start Day 2:

The best part of waking up is not exactly instant coffee in your cup (which is also used to hold your oatmeal, sports drink, rehydrated dinner, etc.), but it’ll do for the short term.

We trekked northward…

… and Mount Rainier watched over us.

That which we worship protects us …

… but we can’t always protect that which we worship.
This was our first evidence of recent forest fires.

Our first view of our home for Night 2: Basin Lake
We arrived at about 2:30 p.m., and had the entire basin to ourselves. There may or may not have been afternoon skinny dipping, and we didn’t even encounter anyone coming in as we climbed out the next morning!

Home sweet tent, this time with the rain fly added for warmth.
I missed seeing the stars through our roof, but I slept far more comfortably than I had the night before.

OK, put your boots & pack back on, and pick up your poles for Day 3:

We found our way through this haunting scenery.
Following the trail was difficult, with fallen trees and ash obscuring the route in places.

Found later on a live, still standing tree: one very old trail marker!

I took this screen cap at what might have been the highest elevation point on our trip.
Based on topographical maps, we probably hit about 6500.

Wanna watch how slowly I hike? Sometimes I cover a whopping 2 miles per hour. Oh, and you can probably tell I didn’t know Tim was taking video. Derp.

We made it back to our RV park by late afternoon for long, hot showers.
Look at my dirty pants!
And herein lies a shopping lesson.
These are boys’ REI brand mountaineering pants, priced at $39.95.
Comparable pants in women’s sizes started at $64.50.
The boys’ version fit me perfectly, and my psychological barrier to purchasing clothing marked XL instead of S was completely obliterated by my excitement over the money I’d saved!

And then we went out for a big, calorie-laden, non-dehydrated dinner, and I ordered a wild boar sandwich for the express purpose of being able to post, “I was so hungry, I ate a boar.”
And that is when karma made its move against my sense of hubris.
The boar attacked within about an hour, and I spent the next 2 days battling and recovering from food poisoning. That sandwich was the one and only item I took in that day that Tim didn’t, so we’re sure it’s the culprit.
Message received.
And no boar for me again, ever. Even pork is gonna be an issue for a while.

The illness was unfortunate, and I wish — really wish — it hadn’t happened, but it did not ruin backpacking for me.
I’m ready for more of this.


Disclaimer: No compensation was received from any brands or entities named above, nor does our mention of them constitute an endorsement. Links are provided for information and convenience only.

3 years in: RV there yet?

No!

Today marks the start of our 4th year of living full time in The Toad, and I’ll celebrate the occasion by updating last year’s post, which included answers to the 12 Questions We Hear All The Time. Bonus: I’ve added a 13th question to make it a baker’s dozen.

Many answers are still the same; updates are written in this nice shade of purple, and I’ve replaced most of the photos too.

1. Sounds like a lot of things go wrong with the RV. Don’t you miss living in a house?

Yes they do, and no we don’t. Things go wrong in everyone’s RV, from the newest to the oldest, from the high-end to the low — just like in a house. They never happen at a good time, they’re expensive to fix, and although Tim can handle most repairs on his own, sometimes we have to pay someone else to do it — just like in a house.

2. You don’t miss anything about having a house? Really?

Fine. We miss having a bathtub. And I’m not crazy about living without my photo albums and other prior-to-digitization mementos, all of which are in our storage unit in San Antonio. I feel like a big chunk of my history is missing.

3. How many states have you visited in the RV, I mean like, for more than just a rest stop?

By my count, 25: Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, Virginia, West Virginia, Utah, Wyoming, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, North Carolina, Alabama, Washington, and Oregon, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota. Without really even trying, we’re more than halfway through the Lower 48!

My criteria for counting a state as visited are a bit fluid, which I know will drive some people a little nuts. Did we stay overnight? Long enough to do the weekly laundry? Go on a hike or visit a national park? All of those are valid to me. Just driving through on the way to elsewhere, with a potty break at a gas station? Not so much. 

This map represents our travels from March through June of 2018. It’s not exact, but it’ll do.
I deliberately left out one-nighters, and some of our stops in WA lack labels because I had to zoom out so far to show our path from end to end.
(source: maps.google.com)

4. Have you found a place in any of those that feels like home? That’s what you set out to do, right? Find home?

Yeah… about that. No. We are no closer to finding home than we were when we started this crazy adventure, and that is because we’ve spent most of our time going from one “Hey, come join us for this” occurrence to another, and occasionally finding spots to explore and play between those events. But we’ve spent time with more friends and family in these last three years than we had in the prior 20, so we have no regrets!

Flagstaff, AZ, was a contender for a while, because we liked the size, the landscape, the people, and the vibe, but when a friend posted a few months later that it was 28 degrees on the morning of Memorial Day? Gone. Dead to us. Off the list. No.

And now, Coeur d’Alene, ID, is a contender. Tim spent his high school years there, and still feels a connection to the place. I like it too, and we’d have a built-in network of friends. The city itself is way too crowded for us, but 10-15 acres several miles outside the city limits sounds appealing. And yes, we’d keep an RV so that we could easily winter elsewhere. I don’t see us pulling the trigger on a land purchase any time soon, but the bug is buzzing about our brains.

5. You sold two houses in 2016, so are you just rolling in dough? Must be nice to be so rich that life is a permanent vacation.

Come closer.

I want you to hear me say this: We lost money on both houses.

I won’t tell you how much, because there is not a big enough margarita on the planet to make me feel better about it, but for a total of 13 months between 2015 and 2016? We were paying the mortgage on a house we weren’t living in, waiting for it to sell.

It hurt, I don’t recommend it, and we should probably not be allowed to buy property ever again because we are terrible at market timing. We are relieved to have the homeownership burden lifted, and we are now rebuilding our savings, thankyouverymuch.

House 1, in San Antonio TX, sold in March of 2016.

House 2, in Norfolk VA, sold in November of 2016

6. So… are you poor? Is that why you’re living in an RV?

No. We’re not poor. We are living on Tim’s military retirement pension, and had in fact been doing so for two years before we downsized to the RV, so we already knew that if we maximized use of his retirement benefits while simultaneously reducing expenses, we could make it work. The RV is simply the means by which we are Owning Less to Do More. It could just as easily have been a tiny home or a boat or a yurt.

We’ve also done a little work camping since last year: the stint in Texas paid us in free rent, and our gig with Amazon Camperforce in Tennessee paid us in both free rent and an hourly wage. With those savings/earnings, we were able to pay off the loan for the new BFT, and we are now living debt free!

7. Are you thinking about getting a new RV still?

No. We’ve decided to keep upgrading and modifying this one until… well, until we feel like we’re done. We’ve painted, replaced some furniture and fixtures, upgraded the power system, added disc brakes and a bit of insulation, and I forgot what the hell all else, but we talked a lot about it in this video by Heartland RVs. We’d still like to add solar power, and get an exterior paint job.

In 2018, the biggest upgrade that I wrote about was our flooring replacement. The biggest modification that I didn’t write about was having our undercarriage stuff upgraded to 8,000-pound axles and H-rated tires by our friends at Performance Trailer Braking (and the fact that I used the term “undercarriage stuff” should explain why I didn’t write about it). 

We also replaced our manual awning with an automatic one, helped my brother’s family with some post- Hurricane Harvey work at his house, and went from not-exactly-legal to clearly-and-absolutely legal with our Texas driver’s licenses. I behaved abominably over it. Here’s why.

Practice makes perfect, and I had to practice a lot to pass the driving test required for our license upgrades.
I crushed a few safety cones.
Sorry, safety cones.

8. How about a new dog?

No. We miss Lola, but this just isn’t the right time for us to add four paws to the mix. Besides, we really don’t look good on paper (no yard, no fence, no vet, no permanent address), so I’m not sure a shelter would deem us a proper adoptive family anyway. Now if a dog finds us? All bets might be off.

– Lola –
Oil on canvas by Tim’s sister, Whitney

9. About that “no permanent address” thing. How do you get mail? Or vote? Or go to the doctor?

OK, we do have a permanent address; we just don’t live in the UPS Store where it’s located. We’d already been renting a mailbox in San Antonio for a while before we started traveling, so we just kept it. It’s the address we use for our driver’s licenses, voter’s registrations, vehicle registrations, banking, etc. Every 2-3 weeks, we call them to have our accumulated mail forwarded to wherever we are.

Our medical “home” is also San Antonio, and we return every 6 months for my cancer follow-ups, and anything else that needs attention. While traveling, we are able to make use of military treatment facilities and VA hospitals, thanks to Tim’s 25 years of Navy service.

10. Do you like the new truck?

Yes! Wow, do we love the new BFT (2017 Dodge RAM 3500 dually). We actually rather liked the old BFT too (2012 Chevy Silverado 3500 dually), and would have kept it until death did us part, but… oh wait. It did die. We just chose not to live with it after the major organ transplant.

But anyway, the advances in comfort, maneuverability, and electronic features between those model years are noticeable even to me, and I don’t really pay much attention to that kind of thing. (“Does it start when I turn the key? Yes? Good. That’s all I need.”)

2017 RAM 3500 Laramie Crew Cab 4X4 8′ Box
6.7-Liter I6 Cummins® Turbo Diesel Engine
AISIN 6-Speed Automatic Transmission
Dual Rear Wheels / 17-Inch x 6-Inch Wheels
Black interior
True Blue Pearl exterior

11. How long ya gonna keep doing this?

We have no exit strategy. When we started, we thought it would take a year or two to get all our exploring done and find The Place, but now we’ve decided to play this hand for as long as we can comfortably hold the cards.

Tim is 52, I’m 49, we’re frequently the youngsters of the RV park, and I’m OK with that. If you’ve read our “How we met” story, and are now trying to do the math, let me help you out. Yes, we were young. We married at 26 and 23, had our sons right quick, and that is how we ended up with an empty nest by the ages of 49 and 46.

The way I like to characterize it is that we are living our twenties now. I even got up to a little mischief during a recent stay in an age-restricted RV park.

12. What’s next?

We’ve traveled from Idaho back to Washington for the month of August. We want to do some hiking in the Cascades and/or Olympics, and we want to see our older son and his girlfriend again before we head back to Texas for our autumn round of family visits and medical appointments. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram and/or Twitter for updates as we go!

After the first week of October, both the calendar and the roads are wide open.

Oh, the places we’ve seen…
… and the places we’ve yet to go!

13. Do you make money from this blog?

Nope. The only payment we receive is your attention, and so far that’s enough for us.

We have not monetized our blog or any of our social media accounts by accepting advertising, by promoting products for manufacturers, or by using affiliate links. If we mention a product (or restaurant, campground, RV park, etc.) that we really liked (or didn’t like), we do so without the owner’s prior knowledge and without compensation.

We have lots of RV blogging friends who make use of some or all of those income streams, and we encourage you to support them. It helps fund their travels, or at the very least, the expense of purchasing and maintaining their web site. We’ve not felt the need to take this step, but we’re not ruling it out as an option should we begin attracting a (much, much) wider audience.

Oh, and on a related topic, we do not have a YouTube channel. Appearing in and editing video is absolutely unappealing to us, so you’ll just have to put up with our “old-fashioned” ways.

So that’s it for the end of Year 3! If there’s a topic I didn’t cover, you are welcome to ask your question in the comments section below, but keep it clean. My parents read this.


Other updates: We started full-timing in August of 2015, but I didn’t think to do an annual review until the end of 2016, and it was just a listing on Facebook of places we’d visited. After that, I started using a quarterly format.