Tag Archives: AL

17th Week In Review: the Car is Fixed!

Thank You, Thank You, Thank You!  Voting has closed for the Travelocity, Travel for Good contest, and we received a total of 3,109 votes.  When voting closed, we were in 15th place, which should be enough to get us into the 2nd round.  The 2nd round is determined solely by the Travelocity judges, and we will not find out the results until the end of June.  By then we should be in Alberta, Canada.

This week was all about getting the car back and getting ready to hit the road once again.  My mom and I drove down to Huntsville, AL, all in one day.  The following day we retrieved the Rav4 (thank you Lott Motor Company!), dropped off the money hungry rental car, and headed back to Virginia (in 2 days).  It was an exhausting turnaround, but blessedly uneventful.  Big shout out to mom for tackling 24 hours of driving with me.

welcome to virginia sign

Back to Virginia in the Rav for the first time since early February

Tomorrow we plan to get back on the road, this time for the longest stretch yet: 5 months between “headquarters”.  We’re already registered for a week-long trail building volunteer trip in northern Montana through the Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation.  The trip starts on June 16th, so we are going to be moving at a pretty quick pace through the great lakes and the Dakotas to get to our assignment.  After using hand tools to clear trees from a historic phone line in the wilds of Montana, we will continue north towards Canmore, to visit Sharon’s Uncle Tony and Aunt Barbara.  On the way we plan to volunteer with a First Nation community through the Muskoka Foundation.  We will be teaching teens about photography and helping them to develop a portfolio.

john patton at Chrysalis Vineyard

John Patton at Chrysalis Vineyard

It’s going to be an awesome summer discovering the Rocky Mountain states and provinces and the Pacific Northwest. … and hopefully Alaska!

Hours volunteered: 0, but completed registration for a volunteer trail building trip in Montana in mid-June


4 (Sharon and Melinda), Virginia –  Fairfax, Arlington, Alexandria, Manassas; Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama

2 (Jay): Virginia & Maryland

Budget: Over – finally got to drop off the rental car which was acting as a hole in our wallet

People Visited:  Kelly Pugh, John Patton, Susan Barrett, Angela Churchill, Cousin Amy & Karl & baby Samantha, Aunt Mariel & Uncle Nathan, Uncle Steve, Aunt Janet, Cousin Janet, Cousin Will, Cousin Dennis & Hadyn & baby Soren, Tracy Rickett, Aunt Madelon & Uncle Chris, Cousin Stephanie & “baby” Natalia, Carmelita & Julius and their son Xan, biking buddies: Matt & Tom; the REI crew: John, Nick, Mike & Maria, Mike

Nights under the stars:  0

Best meal: Homemade beef tenderloin with horseradish sauce and greens from Sharon’s parents garden

Shout out to Celadon Thai Cuisine and the Afghan Kabob Restaurant in Springfield for some standout dishes.

Best beer: This week we branched out with margaritas and wine, we did not tour any breweries or sample any unique beers

15th Week in Review: Our 2nd Setback – The Car Dies

Rav4 being towed

Rav4 getting towed by AAA - thanks for the free towing!!

This photo makes my heart sink.  Our formerly trusty companion, who has been with us through 14 states and over 6,000 miles on this trip alone, gave up on us last Wednesday.  It has now sat in an auto mechanic shop for a full week and we have been left to feel that we are hemorrhaging money with no way to stop the bleeding.  The car needs a new throttle body and it has been beyond difficult to try to get one and get it fixed.   Of course the fortunate part of our breakdown was that it occurred in a parking lot in a city with a choice of mechanics, rental car companies, and lodging options.

view from behind waterfall at Opryland

a view of the atrium from behind the largest waterfall at the Opryland Hotel

While the car has sat, we have kept moving.  In a rental car, we headed to Nashville Tennessee to visit Sharon’s parents who were on a Road Scholar trip there.  They spoiled us with a stay at their hotel, the Gaylord Opryland Hotel.  We also got to ride along on their tour bus visiting Andrew Jackson’s home and the Belle Meade Plantation.  On our own we toured the Yazoo Brewery and had dinner with our friend Brendan O’Connor who attends Vanderbilt.  After finding out that the car would not be fixed by the end of the week, we kept moving, all the way to northern Virginia where Sharon will be hooded on Friday at her grad school commencement.  We will also attend wedding #3 in Front Royal before heading back to Alabama as long as the car has been fixed.

Hours volunteered: 0

States: 4 (in a rental car)

Alabama – Athens, Huntsville

Tennessee – Cleveland, Cherokee National Forest

North Carolina – Weaverville, Asheville

Virginia – Harrisonburg, Fairfax

Budget: over — we are piling up the costs with a rental car and car repairs

People Visited: Brendan O’Connor, Melinda Bloom & John Tewksbury, Carmelita & Julius Lewis, Kim Durand, Greg Castano, Ileana Mayorga, and Tiffany Kudravetz

Nights under the stars:  3:  Monte Sano State Park, Alabama; Joe Wheeler State Park, Alabama; & Cherokee National Forest, Tennessee

Best meal: 5 Star steak with creamed spinach and mashed potatoes at the Old Hickory Steakhouse inside the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville

The Well-Bred Bakery and Cafe in Weaverville North Carolina also deserves a shout out for their delicious baked goods.  The Po Boy Factory is a local hot spot in Huntsville Alabama that we hope to visit again when we go back for the car.  And, The Spot in Cleveland Tennessee is worth a visit if you ever happen to be in that town.  They have been around since the ’30s and are still in business for good reason.

Best beer: Yazoo‘s Dos Perros — they have a great brewery tour every Saturday that is worth the visit.

old hickory steakhouse

the Old Hickory Steakhouse, as seen from the boat ride which circles through the hotel's Delta atrium

Less than 2 weeks left to vote!  Please remember to VOTE for us everyday in the Travel for Good contest.

Sharon & Jay Biking Review: Monte Sano State Park, near Huntsville, Alabama

After volunteering in Guntersville, we got a recommendation from the outfitter there to camp at a state park on a hill overlooking Huntsville, Monte Sano.  Monte Sano State Park offers a full range of accomodations from a lodge to a primitive camping area.  We ended up staying two nights in a primitive site and riding for two days.

butterfly at Monte Sano State Park

Butterfly at O'Shaughnessy Point at Monte Sano State Park

Jay and I do not usually ride bikes together.  Jay is an expert mountain biker who loves to ride steep technical trail with challenges such as “log skinnies” and “drop offs”.  I am a novice rider that prefers to ride smooth trails, described as being “flowing” or as having great visibility.  Luckily, Monte Sano had trails to meet both our needs, so this post is going to be co-wrote and can hopefully inform novice and expert bikers alike.

For the Novice

I loved the Bucca Family Loop trail.  LOVED it.  After struggling on more technical trails and feeling like I was spending all of my time just getting on and off the bike, I was so excited for a trail that allowed me to pick up some speed, get off the brakes and practice my form while enjoying some awesome scenery.  The trail starts at the main trail parking lot, just a stones throw away from the camp store.  You get on the South Plateau Loop trail following signs for the Family Bucca Trail.  This little stretch is actually the most rooted of the entire route, so if you don’t like riding on roots, don’t be deterred.  After you pass the turn off for the Bog Trail, the trail narrows and winds through dense undergrowth.  There are lots of turns, but they are well laid out and you can move through quickly since there aren’t any technical obstacles to navigate.  This section is also where I spooked a deer and saw him running off into the brush.

The next section is actually a loop, so you have a choice to continue straight, or to go up to the right and run the loop counter clockwise.  This is an easy way to add on more miles, by running the loop in both directions.  The loop portion takes you out to O’Shaughnessy Point, a beautiful rocky overlook, which is also a major trail intersection.  I ran into Jay here and we took a break on the rocks, which provide a great place for a picnic.  When I rode the trail the 2nd time, it only took me 30 minutes to ride from the trailhead to the point, and even less on the way back.  Once you are bored with the Family Loop you can step up to the North Plateau Loop.  I rode about 1/3 of the North Plateau and it was enough to get my heart pumping and my legs shaking.

O'Shaughnessy Point

For the Advanced Rider

In my opinion none of the double black diamond rated trails are actually double black diamonds but they are challenging enough that I could not climb some of them with out putting a foot down and even walking some sections. I rode most of the trails in the park and enjoyed them a lot. Of the trails I rode,  Sinks has the fastest downhill section in the park. It also has enough unexpected turns that it really does not let you relax even for a minute.  Other particularly note worthy trails are Keiths, and the Goat trail. The stone cuts are a unique feature that makes the very tough rooted climb worth it. I highly recommend parking your bike and walking the hiking only section of stone cuts in addition to riding the mountain bike bypass. It is a very narrow passage through a cool rock formation.

view from the North Plateau Loop Trail

I have to say that I also enjoyed the Family trail. It’s on a relatively flat plateau, but it does roll up and down and twist and turn a lot. Enough that it’s really fun while carrying a lot of speed. It also has good visibility so you can see other trail users coming a long way out, meaning you do not have to hold back. Don’t let the really tame name convince you to skip this fast buff single track.

13th & 14th Weeks In Review – Fires, Floods, & Tornados – Oh My!

Somehow we managed to miss a week in review, so this summary covers the last two weeks.  There is a lot to update and a lot of posts to add when we get a chance and some free wifi.  The week started with a great weekend of celebrating with family and friends as we saw little Katie Wimmer become Mrs. Kate Osborne.  Congratulations again to the happy couple!  That was one fabulous party….

Jay and Sharon in Dismals Canyon

Us exploring Dismals Canyon near Phil Campbell

After traveling through wildfires in Texas, we entered flooding in Arkansas and Mississippi and tornado damage from Arkansas to Alabama.  I tested my fear of driving through water in Arkansas when I drove through a few feet of flooded roadway with Jay’s encouragement and a serious weighing of the consequences.  The worst damage was in Hackelburg Alabama, but the floods in Arkansas and Mississippi are sure to have detrimental effects on the region for years to come.

flooded road in Arkansas

the view out the windshield of the flooded road we drove through

With 8 out of the last 9 nights spent in our tent, camping under the stars, this leg of the trip has been a chance to reconnect with nature.  It may be a sign of too much time by ourselves in the woods that we spent one evening coaxing caterpillars off our picnic table and onto leaves so that we could transport them closer to their food source.  We were so caring with our animal friends, but then Jay realized these might be the type of caterpillars that eat fruit and we may have just led them to devastate a fruit tree.  Alarmed, Jay wondered aloud if he should have “snuffed them out” while he had the chance.  Apparently fruit trumps butterflies.

dismals canyon

Dismals Canyon, a National Natural Landmark near Phil Campbell

In other memorable nature moments, this morning we saw a red shouldered hawk pick up a branch from the ground a few yards from where we were standing.  Amazing.

Hopefully we can add a photo review, post about volunteering for tornado relief, and a review of the biking trails in Alabama soon.

Hours volunteered:

5 in Vilonia Arkansas going door to door letting residents know about the tornado relief services available

10 in Phil Campbell removing debris from an elderly woman’s home that was destroyed by the tornados

10 in Guntersville sorting and stacking donations for tornado victims at the Salvation Army

bird on floating wreckage

Bird finding a place to rest in the flooded area next to the Helena, AR levee along the Mississippi River

States: 4

Oklahoma – Talihina

Arkansas – Mena, Hot Springs, Sunshine, Vilonia, Helena

Mississippi – Sardis, New Albany

Alabama – Tuscumbia, Phil Campbell, William Bankhead National Forest, Grant (Cathedral Caverns), Guntersville, Huntsville

Budget: over — splurged on a hotel in Tuscumbia and had an unexpected car breakdown that we are in the middle of resolving

People Visited: none, just meeting new folks along the way

Nights under the stars:  8 out of 14 — we’re getting serious use out of our camping gear!

wild mushroom

Did not cook and eat this, but wished we could have

Best meal: Frank’s pasta at the Wimmer’s pre-wedding get together – most delicious Italian food anywhere

Best beer: Franconia Brewery’s Wheat Beer (with their Dunkel and Lager a close 2nd and 3rd)

Please remember to VOTE for us everyday in the Travel for Good contest.  We appreciate that you guys remember to vote even when we are out of cell reception and can’t remind you.  We are in 14th place!

Scenes from Winter Camping

Jay and I enjoy camping.  It’s a good thing, because in order to be on the road for a year, we need to spend most nights either camping or staying with friends and family.  So far of 10 nights on the road, we spent 2 camping, 7 with friends and 1 night in a free hotel thanks to my mom’s rewards points.

Congaree National Park, near Columbia, South Carolina

Tent at Congaree National ParkThe first night we camped in Congaree National Park, near Columbia South Carolina.  My cousin Peter gave us a National Park Pass for Christmas, so we were eager to use it and check out a National Park that we had never heard of.  Turns out that it is free to enter and free to camp at Congaree so you don’t need a pass, but at least we got to get our first “passport stamp” for the book that my mom got for us.

We got to the park close to dusk and had just enough time to set up the tent and hurry back to the board walk trail that runs for two miles through an old growth floodplain forest.  It was eerie to walk along a wooden pathway, suspended above the muck as the light was disappearing.  My eyes were straining to tell the difference between tree roots and snakes.  At one point we did see an animal close to the trail, moving gingerly through the flooded forest.  We couldn’t tell what it was, but Jay guessed that it was probably a possum based on size and gait.

boardwalk in Congaree National Park

Boardwalk trail in Congaree National Park

I tried to keep my cool and appreciate the beauty and stillness that the forest offered at night.  But I mostly kept my eyes peeled to the boardwalk and focused on not losing my balance.  Jay stopped me to point out that the moon was reflected in the waters of the swamp (see picture below).  This was truly a unique place and the boardwalk gave us an opportunity to explore a habitat we never could have observed without it.

Moon reflected in the swamp at Congaree National Park

Moon reflected in the flooded forest at Congaree National Park

Oak Mountain State Park, Birmingham, Alabama

After a night inside in Atlanta Georgia thanks to my high school friend Brett Goodwin (thanks Brett!), we headed back to our tent, this time at a nice campground in Oak Mountain State Park on the edge of Birmingham.  We had only intended to spend the day at the park.  It offers several miles of single track for mountain biking, and Jay needs to ride every few days or he starts to twitch.  Once we got to the park, the late hour and attractive campsite lured us in.  Unfortunately, camping in state parks can get expensive – this one cost us $16 (in addition to $4 to enter the park).

tent site in Oak Mountain State Park

Tent site at Oak Mountain State Park

With an overnight low of 28 degrees, the downside of winter camping is obvious.  The upsides though are surprisingly plentiful: no crowds, easy pick of the best tent site, no bugs, and easier wildlife viewing without leaves on the trees.  This campground had the added benefit of heated bathrooms with a hot shower!

yoga mat at Oak Mountain State Park

My site for yoga in the morning

In the mornings, to wake up and work out the kinks from sleeping on a mat all night, I like to do some light yoga.  It was somewhat difficult what with the 3 layers of clothing I was wearing to combat the 30 degree temperatures, but you couldn’t beat the view.

Deer at Oak Mountain State Park

Young Buck at Oak Mountain State Park

I had just barely started my Sun Salutation, when I heard leaves shuffling on the hillside to my left.  At first I assumed it was another camper, off for an early hike.  It took me a second to realize it was far more likely to be an animal.  I got my camera ready and soon spotted this buck making his way down the hill.  He didn’t notice me until after I had snapped a few pictures.  He scurried up the hill and I went back to finish my routine.  In a few minutes, the smell of bacon lured me back to the campsite.

bacon and reflected trees

Our morning bacon

The inside of our rain fly, covered in frost

After a great breakfast of oatmeal, bacon, and freshly brewed coffee, we broke down the tent, shaking the frost off of the INSIDE of the rain fly!  We are glad to be headed towards the desert and southern California where we may see some less frosty nights.

Overall our two nights under the stars were fantastic.  We look forward to spending many more nights sleeping out throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Lake at Oak Mountain State Park

Lake near our campsite