Friday, December 30, 2011

Twenty Twelve ... here we come!

Since I know everyone is waiting with bated breath, I figured I couldn't let 2011 slip away without telling our big news ... Santa brought us a job for Christmas. That's right, Internet, a real, paying J.O.B.
We will be living and working at this "castle on the hill" pictured above. It's an 8,000 square foot trail center and lodge (complete with stone structure and towers) built in 1933 and nestled on 66 acres in the woods of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. It has been owned by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy for many years and they hire a manager to live and work in it. There are many great things about this job, but probably the best part is that it is 150 yards from the AT and we will meet many thru hikers in the class of 2012!

In order to fully explain the new job, I need to back it up a few months. Actually, it's all very serendipitous and makes for a lovely story, especially for the naysayers who chastised us for giving up our jobs and going wild (literally). Sit back, grab a cup of hot cocoa and read on.

If you checked the blog during our AT hike, you probably noticed we stayed at as many hostels as we could. Not only was the shower and bed appealing, we also wanted to get to explore the possibility of hostel ownership. Some were very nice, some downright nasty. We spent many days walking and talking about how we wanted to someday own our own hostel, but we knew we wouldn't be in the position to buy one after finishing our hike.

Fast forward to August 29, just after Hurricane Irene swept across the East coast. We met up with a bunch of friends in Harpers Ferry, WV, and stayed in a hostel the night before. We knew we would be reaching Fire Marshall's home in Front Royal, VA, to take a zero in the next day or 2. So we really didn't need another hostel stay. But we heard great things about this one—the very one we will now be working at—and knew we couldn't pass it up.

We arrived just after 5 and there were about 5 other hikers there. We took showers, ate dinner and chatted with the hikers. Then we started talking with the caretakers, a young couple who had been running the place for the last 4 years and were getting ready to move on at the end of the hiker season. After hearing about our interest in running a hostel, they encouraged us to apply.

We did just that about 2 days later from Fire Marshall's house. The ATC representative got back to us and said they wouldn't start the hiring process until October, which was fine by us. We kept in touch and when October rolled around, they scheduled a phone interview for us. The phone interview turned into an in-person interview in December, which turned into an offer right before Christmas. Thank you Santa!

Although Deal was interviewing for other jobs all over the country (including Alaska and New Hampshire!), we both knew in our hearts that this was the right fit for us. Fate, actually.

We are uber excited about this next "adventure." It will be new & different and take some adjustment with the schedule. Deal is the main caretaker, and I am his #1 volunteer, as usual. The trail center has a lodge, cottage, campground, but is so much more than just the lodging. We are there to educate people about the outdoors. I think we can do that.

Not that we needed anymore reason to take the job, but there is biking, paddling, rock climbing and hiking all in our backyard. This area is an unchartered territory for us. And we will be living close to some friends that we haven't lived near in years, plus 5 hours from our VA rental property, 5 hours from NJ, 10 hours from Chicago. Sorry New Hampshire friends, you are out of luck. But come visit please!

We've been traveling by foot and car for 8+ months and now we are ready to check out the grass on the settled side once again. No worries, having a good job does not mean we are done adventuring.

PS-I am interviewing for jobs too and have one very promising possibility in the works. In fact, my fortune cookie today said "You will have lots of luck in the next week." Fingers crossed, people. Twenty Twelve is looking very good so far.

PSPS-We are leaving bright and early Friday for a ski-to-hut NYE trip in the mountains of CO. You might remember I wimped out on a ski-to-hut trip last year because of my intense fear of avalanches and the fact that the trip sounded really hard to me. Well, this year I am ready. It's a different hut, but still requires some uphill skiing. I am taking meds to acclimate to the elevation here (I seem to get altitude sickness at a measly 8,000 feet) and am really hopeful I won't die on the trail.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

On the road again ...

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanza, Festivus ... All that good stuff.

We had a wonderful Christmas and enjoyed our time in the Northeast. Because I like the numbers game, that's how I'll break down the last 17 days.
We spent 10 days in NJ at my rents' house, 3 days in CT at my sister's house and 2 days on the road.
We saw 1 nephew & 1 niece.
We saw 2 grandmas.
We saw 12 friends.
We saw 2 kids of friends.
We spent an exorbitant amount of moolah servicing our vehicle.
We sent out 100+ Christmas cards (apologies if you are not on that list!).
We ate 500 lbs of food.
Deal saw From Good Homes in concert twice.
We played trains, puzzles, air hockey, Just Dance 3 on the Wii, painted nails, did the hot chocolate dance from The Polar Express, read The Night Before Christmas ... FYI this was with our niece & nephew, not on our own, clearly.

Now we are on the road again in route to Colorado. We left Monday and drove 900 miles/14 hours. That's a big day even for us, but it flew by because my sister let us borrow The Hunger Games on CD! We are hooked and have never been so excited for a movie to come out. On this leg of the trip, Deal finally got to see my alma mater!! Granted, it was a quick drive by, but I know he was impressed (cough, chuckle). That night, we stopped in Chicago to have a 5-minute Christmas with Deal's mom in the morning.

Today, we left Chi-town and drove to Omaha after stopping in Iowa at the American Pickers site!! For anyone who doesn't watch the show, it's a reality show about 2 guys who go around the country picking up antiques from people's farms, homes, etc. They pitched the show to the History Channel for 4 years before the network gave the green light and is wildly popular! Gotta love road tripping for getting to see these sites!

BTW, does anyone know a good cat psychologist? Mr. McKinley, or Mr. McK, as my dad calls him, is thoroughly confused. I think he was happy to see us, but he wouldn't sleep with us. He slept on our stuff one night, like he was putting up a wall to protect himself. I fully admit that we are terrible parents, but my parents spoil him rotten and make up for our shortcomings ...

I do have other exciting news to report, but I will have to keep you in suspense on the details for now. Since I like to babble, this post is long enough already! Plus, I am pretty tired.

Location:M St,Omaha,United States

Friday, December 16, 2011

Tis the Season

Where in the world are Steadee & Deal??? That's a good question. For the last two days, we've been in one place--my parents' house in NJ. A record for us. We are actually staying here for the next 7 days. It's a very good thing. We needed to catch our breath. Plus, we reunited with Mr. McKinley!!! You can tell he is pissed, but I think he is slowly forgiving us. Little does he know we will be leaving him again ...
Let's start with last weekend. We attended a wedding for Deal's cousin in Charlottesville, a very cute town surrounding the University of Virginia. Here's the very handsome couple:
The wedding was a lot of fun and at a winery. Doesn't that sound dangerous? Well, it was for me. Not because of the wine, but because they featured a special "Mistletoe Martini" that tasted like candy. I like candy. A lot. The next morning, I decided that I probably shouldn't have liked candy that much. But still, a fun night. It is always great times to hang out with Deal's family, especially because his siblings and "others" are very close in age. We have an ongoing joke though. The siblings have similar planning methods, in that they do not plan. They also have similar communications methods, in that they do not communicate clearly. The "others" are the opposite. We usually let the siblings talk things out and laugh in the background. Then we make the plans and communicate them.From C-ville and the wedding, Deal and I spent the night with DrFlyer/Pat, Deal's friend from the Prep, and his wife, theDancer/Bri. We discovered a new board game, Bang! and stayed up way too late playing it. In the morning, they trusted us to babysit and we hung out with their very smiley baby.Our next stop was to visit Fire Marshall/Mac, our fellow AT SOBO thru hiker, and his family (also known as, our second family). Of course they were as hospitable as usual, cooking up a delicious storm and making us feel at home. And reuniting with Fire Marshall brought back the best trail memories.
In between all our visits, we had some more job interviews, but I'm still not revealing details yet. We are 99% sure, though, that we are going to take another epic road trip following Christmas being that we are still jobless and homeless. This time straight out west to Colorado! Deal's sister lives there, along with some other friends, so why not? "Why not" seems to be our philosophy lately!!!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

42 days, 17 states & 7,100 miles

On Oct. 24, we finished our hike on the Appalachian Trail after 141 days, 14 states and 2,181 miles and took a train to Danville to pick up supplies and our vehicle.

42 days, 17 states and 7,100 miles later, we are back in Danville for a "resupply."

After leaving Florida, we made our way north, hitting 2 more high points (#s 23 & 24) along the way.

Georgia's Brasstown Bald stands at 4,784 feet, which sounds more exciting & challenging than some of the others we've done, but it's not because you can drive most of the way up. It is not a true "bald" like the ones we went over on the AT because it is not treeless. But it does have 360-degree views. Except when you are up there during a rainstorm. Because then all you get is pea soup. We also chose the wrong season; the visitor center and the bathrooms at the top were closed for the year. All I can say is that the exhibits looked awesome through the windows and it's a good thing we know how to dig a hole.

The one very good thing about GA's high point was that it was near the southern terminus of the AT. We not only got to stay again at one of our favorite hostels, but we crossed the trail several times on our drive. We even waited to see if we could pick up any dirty stinky hikers to give trail magic, but no luck. One of our fellow SOBOs that we met up in Maine is still on the trail and we missed him by a day!

We also visited Amicalola Falls State Park in GA. The southern terminus of the AT is 8 miles from Amicalola at Springer Mtn and often thru hikers (especially NOBOs) hike the extra 8.5 miles on the "Approach Trail" to start or finish. Not us boss. We neither had the time or desire to hike an extra 8 miles. But now we can say we did part of the Approach Trail. It was definitely a cool state park and the falls (729 feet) are the tallest cascading waterfall east of the Mississippi.

Our next high point--Sassafras Mountain (3,533 feet) in South Carolina--was equally disappointing as GA. It was not because of a closed visitor center, but that SC takes no pride in its high point. We had read that, but thought maybe things have changed. There were nice signs along the roads leading to Sassafras, which is good because it was literally in the middle of nowhere and I read about people getting lost trying to find it. But once you got to the trail and summit, there were zero signs. We even had to poke around up top for awhile before finding the itty bitty survey marker in the ground. On a funny side note, Sassafras used to be at 3,560 feet, but now it sits at 3,533 feet.

Our time in Danville was again too short, but we still got to see a few folks. We stayed with the GAF (Great American Family) as usual, but I forgot to take a photo, so you just need to use your imagination.

We ate at a new restaurant in Danville with Rambo (who has recovered from his time on the trail with us) and his wife, which is usually the case. It's a running joke for us that every time we come to town, there are several restaurant openings and closings to report!

Now we are in Charlottesville for a wedding. I know everyone wants to know what's the plan Stan, but we just go day by day. I will say that we have both had promising interviews last week and have some more next week. But you'll just have to stay tuned for details!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Tour de the Lowest High Points

This weekend, we've been hanging out in Tampa with our good friend BEEF! (Casey). It was time to give our bodies and Trailblazer a little R&R, plus there was a lot of football to be watched; perfect timing to roll into Beef's territory.

We've visited Beef a few other times. I love Beef, but I always put him into the perpetual bachelor category. This time, though, we believe he and his pad have been domesticated by his woman, theCheerleader/Rachael. He is also in the process of buying a house (fingers crossed). It all makes us very proud.

If we haven't gained our weight back yet (which I'm fairly certain we have), we definitely have in Tampa. Yum. Tampa gets a thumbs up food choices (and beer choices). Beef has awesome friends here, so it's not like we are just visiting Beef anymore. And on this trip, we met new friends! It was also nice to soak up the sunshine before before we head North to the cold.

Before we reached Tampa, we hit 4 more state high points during the week--Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama & Florida. I admit that visiting high points is often arbitrary and contrived, and these high points fit that bill. The thing is, Deal & I set a goal, and we don't back down from goals. We have to bag that peak, no matter how boring it is. Sometimes to hit the high points, you have to go low. Welcome to our last week.

First up was Driskill Mountain (535 feet) in Louisiana. We unintentionally arrived late in the evening and slept in one of the more interesting places on our travels ... in a church parking lot in front of a cemetery. Did I mention the LA high point is also near the spot Bonnie & Clyde met their demise at the hands of law enforcement in 1934? And a famous highpointer has his ashes spread on the mountain. You are basically surrounded by dead people when you visit it.

We saved the hike for the morning and it was actually quite nice. Part of the trail (including the high point itself) is on personal property owned by the same family for many generations. The trail is well maintained and there is a nice sign and bench at the summit.

Next up was Woodall Mountain (806 feet) in Mississippi. We heard nothing but negative things about Mississippi's high point. People talked about a broken wooden sign covered in graffiti, that the sign disappeared over time and that there is always garbage strewn about. Needless to say, we had low expectations and were pleased with what we found. The area does resemble a redneck's picnic area a little bit, but just last year, the high point club (yes, there's a club) added a beautiful metal plaque embedded in a rock explaining the rich history of Woodall Mtn during the Civil War. Apparently there's been lots of bloodshed in that area. Awesome.

We were tempted to make a side trip to the famous Key Underwood coon dog cemetery, where 185+ hunting dogs are buried. It would have been a nighttime visit, and I still have nightmares from Pet Cemetery, so we scratched that idea.

Alabama's high point--Cheaha Mountain--took us up winding roads to higher elevations for a change at 2,407 feet. It is in a state park (entrance fee) and the high point area is definitely nicer than some with a stone observation tower built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. I was quite impressed with the 360-degree views and I'm sure it's even prettier during the other seasons.

Our last high point on the week's tour was in Florida. Britton Hill (thankfully not called a mountain) is the lowest of the state high points at 345 feet above sea level. We made the usual jokes about needing oxygen and needing a Sherpa to carry our packs. There's no denying that this "high" point is underwhelming. The park it sits in looks akin to a pedafile's favorite spot. Not to mention the fact it is way far out of the way in Florida ... I think the rest of the state only sits at 344 feet, so we probably didn't need to visit the site, but we did. We bagged that peak and that made for our 22nd high point!

Tomorrow, we hit the road again for the next week. More high points on our agenda. We had hoped to visit other friends/family along the way, but we tried to pack too much in (as usual). We have to make a pitstop in Danville to pack up new supplies (i.e. winter gear), then onto a cousin's wedding in northern VA next weekend!

Location:Bosphorous Ave,Tampa,United States

Friday, December 2, 2011

Goodbye Texas

We spent 3 glorious days and 2 glorious nights exploring Big Bend National Park. For a trip we weren't planning to make, we have no regrets. I have so much to say & don't know where to begin. This is a warning, folks, this could get long & ugly.
We weren't sure we wanted to head that far south in Texas. It wasn't so much that the park was 4 hours out of the way, but more to do with the fact that Big Bend borders Mexico.

We spoke with rangers at the other parks and they assured us it was safe. It was safe, but surreal to be so close to Mexico. And when I say close, I mean you could smell the burritos.

There used to be 2 informal (no passports or pat down needed) border crossings in the park--Santa Elena and Boquillos.

But they have been closed since Sept. 11. This hurt both the people of those villages who lost commerce from Americans and park visitors who lost the experience of easily visiting a "real" Mexican community. Boo. Blame the damn terrorists. The park does plan to reopen one crossing; we hope so! I think it would add an extra appeal to the park.

For the time being, though, brazen Mexicans cross the border illegally to put out goods for sale. That was interesting. On one hike, we ran into Victor who serenaded us and tried to get us to make a purchase. We politely declined. Maybe the border patrol people were not hiding in the mountains watching like we thought, but we weren't keen on breaking rules.

Overall, we were expecting border patrol to be all over the park. But we never saw any until we left the park & had to go through "customs" to get back into the United States, which we never left, by the way. It's not like we saw Mexicans trying to cross into the country or drug smuggling going on, but it all felt slightly forbidden. That's the best way to describe it.

The Rio Grande serves as the international border. The river flows 2,000 miles and 10% of the river is in Big Bend (118 miles to be exact). It is described as wet and wild, but it has lost a lot of its dignity over the years and can barely be called a river. I suppose this is why border crossings could be easy!

Besides the Rio Grande, Big Bend has a lot to offer in its 8,000 acres of mountain cliffs, desert & canyons. It is the land of many contrasts and rich history.

This part of Texas was also once under water millions of years ago-hard to believe since it is a DESERT now. Its history reaches back into prehistoric ages. Archeologists have found 800-lb dinosaur vertebraes in the park! How's that for fossil life?
Once the land was settled by American Indians, then Spanish and Anglo American homesteaders, there were whole villages and communities that thrived through the 1940s, even some after Big Bend became a national park in 1944. Plus, there are hot springs, emerging from the ground and heated to 105 degrees. We saw many remnants of ranches, post offices and motels. Very cool.

In terms of wildlife, besides the dinosaurs of course, we saw tons of javelina (think pig, but hairy). We were told there are bear in the park, which had us scratching our heads. It was the desert after all. Also mountain lions. UNfortunately, we saw neither. We really wanted to run into a puma!
Because of the mix of mountains and desert, flora are diverse from desert types of pine, oak & juniper trees (plus my favorite, the Texas madrone) to stipa & grama grasses to lechuguilla & sotol cacti . Some plants are only found in the park too, making the plant life even more interesting. We took one hike following a written guide and learned so much. We both wish we had a greater knowledge of what's in nature! If I did, I wouldn't have thought this was a life-size asparagus and would have known it was agave.

I now know where the saying "all quiet on the western front" came from. It was so quiet in Big Bend. At night, there were no trees rustling in the wind, no birds or squirrels (although there are 450 species of birds). It was just pure silence ...except for the one night when a javelina was poking around our camp. Also, Big Bend has one of the darkest night skies of all the national parks in the lower 48. The stars were redunkulous. As were the sunsets/sunrises.
We had fun. We went to every end of the park by foot and vehicle and are pleased with the whole experience. Can't believe we ended up spending a full week in Texas, but it was awesome!

Now we are continuing on our tour of state high points. To the East we go!