Monday, October 31, 2011

Kentucky to North Carolina

I'm finally delivering the Mammoth Cave photos as promised.  We spent over 4 hours underground on the Grand Avenue tour, covering about 4 miles of tunnels and even stopping for lunch in the snowball room cafeteria about a mile in.  The caves are a very old, dried up river bed where you can see the changes in how the water flow shaped the channel: some were wide, room size caves and others were slot canyons that were very narrow and tall.  The very end of the tour brought us through a more damp area so stalactites grew from the ceiling in all sorts of shapes and sizes.  We even saw a few bats flitting around and lots of cave crickets too!  Our tour was pretty tame, but they did show us where some of the more advanced caving tours go, including one tiny little hole that you crawl through to get into another area.  I think I started to hyperventilate just looking at it; clearly that expedition is not for me.  Here are the pics:

First part of the tour

Snowball Room underground cafeteria


We emerged from underground to a beautiful, sunny Kentucky day and wound our way over to a free campsite (thanks Army Corps of Engineers!) right along a nice river.  Nevermind that we were on the backside of a HUGE dam with warning alarms posted throughout the campground.  Yikes!

Unfortunately we both woke up feeling a little groggy the next morning.  Headache and a sore throat for me.  I'm convinced it was the dank cave air--one more reason that I don't belong in caves.  We took our time heading out and drove south to Nashville for a drive-by tour of the Grand Old Opry and a picnic lunch nearby in a nice park.  I was not feeling well enough to deal with anything else so we kept moving back east to our campsite for the night at a free spot along a lake near Cookeville, TN.  Thunder and heavy rain moved in during the night and stuck around the whole next day while we drove all the way to Asheville, NC.  We've been in and around Asheville since then, camping in the Pisgah National Forest.  We checked out the downtown area on Friday in the cold rain and even stayed for dinner in town at a great little pub.  Thanks Memere for the Happy Meal!  

The rains blew out of town, but the winds stayed put Saturday so it was too cold for me to climb.  We scouted out the climbing area instead.  Such a cool rock!

It's still fall down here!

Looking Glass Rock Nose Area

This was our "Blaze Orange"

We also checked out Sliding Rock that people use as a water slide in summer.  Looks like fun, but way too cold now! 

Looking Glass Falls.  Would be a great shower in summer!

We were quite studious for the afternoon.  We found a library nearby where I got a couple job applications started and Curtis worked on his continuing education for his P.E.  There was a Halloween Fest going on in town with a costume parade and a bunch of other fun activities too.  That may be the only time I see someone dressed as Frankenstein's bride in a library.

We finally got to climb yesterday.  We waited for the afternoon sun to hit the rock and then climbed 4 pitches up to the top and rappelled down just as it was getting dark and chilly.  

Up the Nose

View from the top

Rappelling down

We just finished our laundry and are going to restock our pantry before taking a drive through the Smokies and then south to Alabama for more climbing (and hopefully warmer weather).  I'm counting down to Florida sun and beaches!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

New and Red River Gorges


We've been winding our way through southern West Virginia and Kentucky over the past week.  First we went to New River Gorge in Fayetteville, WV for some of the world's best climbing.  The routes were a little hard for me and combined with cool weather, we kept moving on.  But we did check out the overlook for the bridge.  It's the biggest arch bridge in the western hemisphere.  We had just missed the big local celebration (cleverly named Bridge Day) where they close down the bridge and parasailers jump off into the gorge.  That would have been neat to see.  

Instead, we checked out the local gear shop and I finally caved and bought myself a new pair of climbing shoes.  My big toe had busted through the old pair and it was becoming rather painful to keep climbing with them.  So here are the new little gems.  I think they might have been my early birthday present to myself.

We camped out at a pretty nice campground with a nice sink facilities and all the hot water I could want for my shower.  Except I had to keep hitting the button every 10 seconds.  You know those faucets where you push it down and you get a few seconds of water?  Just picture that every 10 seconds for a shower.  At least it was hot.

We left New River and headed west to Red River Gorge.  It definitely showed a whole different side of West Virginia that we didn't get to see from Seneca Rocks area.  Lots of coal.  (my only experience with coal has been on the little plastic trains that come out a Christmas time--they were loaded up just the same).  There was also a Dupont plant which gave light to why the area is called Chemical Valley.  Anyway, we stopped at this lovely waterfall on the way

We spent the whole weekend at Red River Gorge camping at Miguel's Pizza and campground.  It's definitely a hotspot for young climbers and it was packed.  And the pizza was pretty tasty too with toppings from Miguel's own garden.  We climbed all day Sunday and Monday at the Muir Valley area, generously kept open by a local couple.  I even got to lead a few climbs, getting harder with each one.

We were sad to leave yesterday afternoon, but the time had come.  We drove to Mammoth Cave last night and saw a random sighting of the Northern Lights on our way to our campsite.  A strange red glow in the sky.  Now we're waiting for our tour to begin at Mammoth Cave National Park where we'll be exploring underground caves for the next four hours!  I'll try to take some good photos!

Sunday, October 23, 2011


We're at Red River Gorge in Slade, KY enjoying the warm sun during the days and I'm doing my best to stay warm during the cold nights (we even got a frost last night).  I'll have some pictures of the area to put up later, but I just felt like sharing a couple things today:

This song has been in my head all day:

Ahh, the days of awesome Sesame Street.  (Missy, maybe this will be Noah's new favorite video).

And for those of you that are interested, I am reading George R.R. Martin's lengthy series.  I finished A Game of Thrones and am now reading A Clash of Kings.  And I'm sucked in.  Every spare moment, I'm reading these stinkers.  No drawing, no guitar playing, no conversation. . . just reading.  It's become a bit ridiculous, but thanks to Jesse and Jessa I'm stocked up with the rest of the series too.  Hopefully Curtis starts reading them soon so we can at least discuss them :)

That's all for now.  I'll post pictures later this week.

Friday, October 21, 2011

2500 Miles

You'd think that driving 2500 miles somewhat south might get us into slightly warmer climates, but not yet!  We're back in West Virginia feeling like maybe we never left Maine. . . .but first let me update you on where else we've been.

We had a great visit with Joe & Jac and their awesome friends who let us crash their vacation at a nice rented house on Chesapeake Bay.

Thanks to the huge stack of games, we were all well occupied into the late hours of the night.  I highly recommend Cards Against Humanity (a darker version of Apples to Apples) and best of all, it's free!  We parted with Joe & Jac on Saturday morning and scooted over to Annapolis to *finally* see Tom's old stomping ground.  We walked all over campus, saw Tom's old dorm and the chapel and the Herndon monument.  It was all much smaller and cozier than I ever pictured.  We also walked into the tiny downtown and along the circle that surrounds the Capital.  It was a lovely, sunny day too.

After Annapolis, we started our drive over to Seneca Rocks by way of Shenandoah National Park.  It added a considerable amount of time to our drive but the views were great:

Our extended drive got us to the campground in Seneca a little later than planned, but we met up with Curtis's cousin Llewy at the local hotspot, if you can call it that.  The general store was reminiscent of Hussey's in Washington, ME (just minus the wedding dresses) and the pizza place was packed with hungry, cold climbers.  Sandwiches would have been faster, but I'd been thinking about that pizza all day while driving along twisty, windy roads up and down through the mountains.  So we ordered a pizza and went back to the campsite to get a very finicky fire going.  The boys went back to fetch the pizza after 40 minutes or so while I tended the fire, but they were gone a long time.  Their story goes like this:  when they showed up they saw our pizza ready on the counter but the waitress insisted that our pizza had just gone in the oven and would take another 20 minutes.  So they waited 20 minutes until the owner came out and said "Your pizza's been sitting here ready for 20 minutes".  Awesome.  When they handed it over, Llewy thought to check about the meat situation where he discovered that pepperoni (cleverly camouflaged in cheese) covered the pizza.  When they pointed this out to the owner he insisted we had ordered pepperoni and then told about how he once kicked out a group of vegetarians for complaining that they found sausage on their pizza.  And something about raising beef cattle.  I'm not sure about that part.  They were nice enough to throw in a sandwich for me, but Curtis had to actually go into the kitchen to supervise since they weren't sure what do put in a veggie sandwich.  Yikes.  Moral of the story:  Peppers stands for pepperoni in Seneca Rocks, WV.  And I probably should have just ordered the sandwich to begin with.

We got up early Sunday morning expecting to battle the crowds for a route, but apparently Seneca climbers are a bunch of sleepy heads.  We had our choice of routes and climbed a 3 pitch route up to a ledge, then scrambled to an upper ledge where we did another 2 pitches to the summit.  Not a bad day in the sun.

View from the top of our first climb.  I think it looks like a puzzle scene :)

North Summit

Views from the top

Seneca Rocks North and South summit

Curtis and Llewy on the summit

The rock is like a big shark fin, so the summit was rather narrow and had great views of the surrounding area.  Curtis and I stuck around to climb on Monday too after the weekend crowd had gone home, and then started to wind our way over to Bridgedale to see Ginny.  We camped out on the somewhere on the way and had a nice leisurely breakfast of blueberry scones from a mix that Missy sent.  They were delicious!

Blueberry and sour cream scones

We drove over to the George Washington National Forest looking for some nice hiking, but found this instead!

I call this: My life as a praying mantis

And a possibly feral dog.  But I won't get into that.  We had our first night of camping where it hadn't been raining, it wasn't currently raining, and it was warm enough to sit outside after dark so Curtis got a rip roaring fire going.  About time!

We met up with Ginny on Wednesday and went out to lunch with her and Hunter at a tasty place in Harrisonburg.  We were able to clean ourselves up and run some errands to restock our pantry too before diving back into the great outdoors.  Ginny had some guest passes, so we got to stick around a bit longer and have dinner with her too before setting off to find our campsite for the night.  

Now we're in New River Gorge in West Virginia where there is some great climbing, but it's a little chilly and overcast so we're going to wind our way over to Red River Gorge in Kentucky to take advantage of the sunshine for the weekend and do some climbing where the rock is warm enough to feel our fingers!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Happy Birthday Mom!

Missy, Mom, and Me

Today is Mom's 60th birthday!  While Curtis and I are sorry to miss her special day, it sounded like plans were in the works for a fun celebration tonight with friends and family.  Missy baked her signature german chocolate cake, and you can see that Noah did a pretty good job of helping too:

Yikes!  Hopefully Olive didn't lick up too much of that chocolate :)  Happy Birthday Mom!  Hope you've had a wonderful day and have fun celebrating with everyone tonight!

We had a great time visiting with Jesse, Jessa, and Eily early this week.  They live within walking distance of the tow path that runs along the Delaware Canal so Curtis and I took our mountain bikes out for a spin Monday morning up to Washington Crossing State Park.  We had a little picnic, then crossed the bridge back over into New Jersey and took the tow path all the way back on that side.  It was a little questionable in parts closer to Trenton, but it was otherwise really lovely.  Lots of mallards, a couple herons, an egret, turtles, and death defying squirrels that jumped out in front of us as we cruised along the trail.  Very pretty.

On Tuesday, Jesse and Jessa took the day off to spend with us so we went to the park where we picnicked while Eily played on the playground.  After the meal was digested, the men took to the playground too:

This is what happens when two grown men are let loose on a playground

We drove up to New Hope and walked around the downtown, checking out a few shops where  Eily got all decked out in a hot pink feather necklace, hair clip, and sunglasses.  We were all a little sleepy after our lunch and playground play session, so we headed home early for dinner.  Jesse was master of the grill and made us a delicious dinner of burgers (mushroom on the stove for me), potatoes on the grill with Jesse's secret spices, and oven roasted asparagus.  We feasted for our last meal with them.

We were sad to leave them on Wednesday, but excited to get out to Gettysburg.  We wound out through Lancaster, PA which may officially be the weirdest town/city I have yet to see.  For those of you that haven't been, imagine strip malls, big box stores, and outlet stores sprawled across the country side and then add in Amish horse and buggies.  I even saw one buggy pulled up at the Hess Express.  I wish I had been fast enough to get a photo of it.  It was such an odd combination.

We got to Gettysburg late in the afternoon, but we had enough time to stop at the visitor center and stamp our National Parks Passport that Ginny & Dave gave to us before we left.  And we started on part of the self-guided auto tour around Culp's Hill.

Our house from the observation tower on Culp's Hill

We strolled through the historic downtown and found this lovely store that sells all hand woven textiles: coverlets, tablecloths, pillowcases, you name it.  I might have to revisit that place when we have a home again someday.  We camped out at the Michaux State Forest in a free camping area about 40 minutes from Gettysburg.  It had been drizzling all day so the forest was fogged in and the campsite was barely visible.  We could have been driving into a lake for all I could see.  

Thursday we woke up to more fog and drizzle instead of the sunny skies we had hoped for.  We did the rest of the auto tour from seminary ridge all the way over to cemetery ridge and got out to explore Little Round Top and Devil's Den.  

The walkway near where Pickett's charge would have begun

Artillery where Lee would have stood when the Confederates fell back

20th Maine monument on Little Round Top

On top of the NY monument looking out at Devil's Den

And for those of you looking to visit Gettysburg in the future, you could take a Segway tour!

The last things you expect to see on Little Round Top

We returned to our campsite and set up our tarp just in time for the downpours to begin, and it did pour.  All night.  If the thunder and rain weren't waking me up, the drips from the condensation on the cap roof certainly did.  I think 3 big drops hit me smack on the face during the night.  Quite the wake up call.

So now we're in Maryland on the Chesapeake Bay, hanging out with our friends Joe, Jac and a bunch of their friends.  We timed it perfectly to meet up with them on vacation so we get to spend more time with them!  

That's all for now!  Happy Birthday again Ma!