I can see it’s going to take me some time to take this town in.
A fine morning: I put in some work, and then headed into the woods. Hops and I took a short hike and I rode some trails in the Bent Creek Experimental Forest, which (as far as I can tell) is part of Pisgah National Forest. The trails were not terribly technically challenging, but the climbing was a challenge for me. And descending so fun!
For comparison I went back and looked up a similar picture I took in 2015 or thereabouts…
I put in some more time reading (oh, this life) and then met up with some friends for dinner and drinks – Larry, from just last week, and our friend Velicia are in town for a conference this coming weekend.
another sour flight – this town is lousy with breweries!
with Velicia and Larry
And I spotted this list of live shows coming up, which is part of what’s making it hard to leave town.
I’m lucky to have happened upon this place as I looked for camping spots along my route. The name was familiar because, oh yes, Oak Mountain is some famed mountain biking! (Site of the Bump-n-Grind race, and home to an IMBA epic trail.) The camping here was not cheap, which I regret. But the facilities were excellent – there was even coin-op laundry, which I took advantage of – and the park was enormous, just going on and on, always more to see. I highly recommend it, but $$$.
I mountain biked some truly rad trails, Hops and I did some hiking – the deal we’ve developed is, every time I leave him to ride, I owe him a hike.
Hops heads uphill
above “Lightning” trail
We also checked out a short trail that advertised “live raptors!” Are you kidding, yes! This was a very cool series of cages – big ones, in the woods – holding nonreleasable birds: red-tailed hawks, great horned owls, turkey vulture and a rare albino turkey vulture, barn owls, black vultures, and barred owls. All of my pictures came out pretty poorly, what with the mesh; but here’s an albino turkey vulture for you.
We later visited the Alabama Wildlife Center, where I saw the largest bird I’ve ever seen that wasn’t an emu or an ostrich: a Eurasian eagle-owl.
We drove around for hours. The park is almost 10,000 acres! We visited multiple lakes, obviously multiple trails, encountered surprise birds of unusual size, sat in the sun and hid from the rain. A beautiful spot. If it weren’t so spendy I’d circle back. Hey, those trails are so worth it, y’all. Leaving a little bit of my heart in Oak Mountain…
We were a little disgusted to learn that Alabama does not allow dogs on beaches at all, anywhere. Luckily Hops does not care for water (though he likes to run in the sand); I’m just glad Ritchey was not here to see this. So we crossed another state line.
We stayed a couple of nights at the Bear Lake campground in Blackwater River State Forest, which was lovely but not so cheap; I had work to do and it turned out to be worth it to have a stable base for a bit. We hiked and I rode my bike, but I apparently fell down on the picture-taking. Maybe because my mind was on work.
Next we drove down to visit Destin/Fort Walton, where I’ve heard the beaches are lovely. And they were – beautiful white sand – but it didn’t seem an area too well suited for vandwellers with dogs. We moved on fairly quickly. I could see myself enjoying this place when I had some human company and a dogsitter, but this will have to wait for another trip.
So we turned north again…
And saw the sights at the state line, a lovely little park.
When we arrived in the national forest, my left knee looked like a cantaloupe. This is the formerly good knee that has been plaguing me for some months now. I did some nursing it: ibuprofen, ice, and intermittent walks with Hops (he LIVES for a walk in the woods). It’s clear that moving around is good for it, and sitting behind Foxy’s wheel is not. Meanwhile, I was parked at a mountain bike trailhead, watching all the locals come and go, congregate and share beers and talk shit… it was pretty torturous, and made me nostalgic for a community of mtbers to which I used to belong.
We also saw a beautiful bat! just lying trailside – I was afraid it was dead, but it wasn’t; I was afraid it was hurt, but as I examined it and tried to figure out how I might could help, it eventually grew tired of me and just rolled over and flew away. This was a special treat.
Lacking any other place to be immediately, and having found a lovely, free place to camp and cook my meals, I’ve stayed. Tonight, the second evening, I felt good enough about the knee to take a short ride; and it was fine. The worst day on a bike beats the best day off one, and I am grateful for every pedal stroke I get to make. Tomorrow, knee permitting, I’ll make a few more.
Foxy and I are preparing to leave Texas for the first time together, friends. It’s a momentous occasion. It’s been over two months since I started this little jaunt – I can scarcely believe it! – and I have several times been thrown off the track I expected to take. But it’s all good. I’ve been having the most amazing time, astonished by the freedom of total spontaneity and having no one to answer to but myself. The beauty of the world, and the joy in discovery. I’ve loved riding my bike, of course; but I’ve been equally pleased to hike with Hops, who is as crazy for trails as I am. I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the generosity of people everywhere I’ve gone. I’ve overcome a few challenges along the way, and I feel ever more ready for the next.
More than two months just driving around Texas! (Well, there were interludes.) It’s a big place, of course. I estimate that I drove through 80 counties, of the 254 in the state, and I carefully counted 14 state parks/sites and 5 national parks/areas (the state and national parks passes I purchased have already paid for themselves, and then some). I have been hosted by some 13 friends & families, in one form or another (laundry! showers! toilets! warm indoor haunts!), and Ritchey’s ashes have flowed away in 7 bodies of water (I’ve been remiss, actually, and missed the Rio Grande). It all feels like a promising and auspicious start on my journey. As Foxy crosses her first state line (with me, that is), we’re hopeful about the future. And looking forward to seeing Delaney very soon!
Onward with joy and (as Jerko says) deep peace. Cheers, friends.
Hops and I had a lovely time in Palo Duro Canyon. It was stunning.
We hiked the CCC trail, from the bottom of the canyon to the top (~700 feet) and back down again.
And got harassed by the most aggressive roadrunner I have ever known in my life. Admittedly, it got one of Hops’s kibbles before I understood what was up; then it was so insistent on more that it nearly got into the van with us. I started out excitedly taking pictures, and pretty soon was trying to shoo it away. First the mule deer, and now this. Who knew we’d be collecting wild animals friends!
And then off for my mountain bike ride: I rode Rojo Grande, Paseo del Rio, Givens, Spicer, Lowry (GSL), Lighthouse, Juniper/Cliffside, Juniper/Riverside, and Sunflower. It was stunning.
After two nights in Palo Duro, we moved on to Caprock Canyons State Park and Trailway.
But, that second night in Palo Duro, Hops’s water bowl froze solid overnight, inside the van. So we pushed on for the DFW metroplex, where my mother was waiting with a short-term rental for us. Warm.
I’ll be in this area for a week at least, doing laundry and visiting with some old friends – and my mom – and running errands. We may get a little less picturesque. But it’ll be a nice break. And there’s so much road ahead!
Leaving Monahans, we headed north to see the Cadillac Ranch just outside Amarillo.
I’m glad we saw this, but also this article gets it right: the place is disappointingly overrun with litter. I wish I’d had a full-size garbage bag with me.
We got into Palo Duro Canyon State Park with just enough time to park before dark, but woke up to beautiful views.
And now we’re parked in a sunny spot while I work on the computer and we wait for the warmest part of the day to hike and mountain bike… the trails look primo and the views are outstanding, but I confess I’m ready to be out of the cold, too. In the next days I want to take the time to appreciate this park and Caprock Canyons, but I’m also looking forward to meeting up with my mother and some old friends in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and spending some time indoors.
On my last day in Alpine, I rode & hiked Hancock Hill behind the campus of Sul Ross State University. These trails are not designed for mountain biking, and thus they’re not the finest I’ve seen for that activity, but I’m rarely sorry to get out on the bike. I kept the ride short, and picked up Hops for a hike to finish up. So I saw the famous desk twice in one day. And a beautiful day it was!
bike and bike tree
just me & the weather up here
dog and desk
bike and desk
Hops heads for the tops
How about those West Texas skies, huh?
I’ve had a lovely stay here in Alpine, a town I love (and one I dream of moving to), parked in the driveway of friends. Heading out, I’m back to campgrounds and roadsides for a bit, so not sure if I’ll keep up daily posts in the next week or so. But soon! Thanks for your patience.
Forces are moving me on from Terlingua a little ahead of schedule, because there’s always something new up the road. But first: my last day’s ride in Big Bend Ranch State Park.
the locals are friendly
on the Crystal Trail
Buena Suerte Road
Then it was laundry day…
And then I drove up to Alpine for the evening, to see friends and attend the women’s march.
Alpine at dusk
sorry so blurry – it was very windy!
The next morning we all marched together, some 140 in the little town of Alpine, and several dogs including Hops. I regret no pictures!
From here we’ll be heading north, eventually to meet up with my mother! As I head out of the Big Bend region, I want to thank everyone who has shown me hospitality on the way: Tony and Katie, Barrett and MaryAnn, Jason, Brian, April and Tobin. It’s true, what the experienced vandwellers told me: the kindnesses along the way will be perhaps the sweetest part. Thanks, friends.