North Cascades National Park in Washington is remote. We’ve attempted to visit this place for three years and in July we finally made it. With the Vistabule in tow it’s a tough climb over several mountain ranges but certainly worth the effort.
Half-way up the mountain
Wildflowers take center stage after a recent fire
Lucky for us, we arrived during huckleberry season and collected a bowl of berries. Without access to an oven, I attempted to make huckleberry crisp in a frying pan. Not bad!
The Hiawatha Trail in Northern Idaho is a converted railroad track turned epic bike trail. It’s a fifteen mile ride through a pine forest. Often dubbed the crown jewel of the Rails-to-Trails, it includes seven trestles and nine long tunnels. With a solid recommendation from our friend Kim, we decided to give it a go.
Because of limited space we were not able to travel with our own bikes so our best option was rental bikes. We tried to avoid the crowds and departed early in the morning for the cycle shop but it seems many others had the same plan. It was a long ordeal to collect and load our gear but with everything finally sorted, we googled directions to our next stop…the trailhead.
The start of the trail was an unexpected fifteen mile drive up a curvy, single lane gravel road. It was a chore to navigate as we honked our horns around blind curves and prayed there were no cars driving the opposite direction. Stephen and I looked at each other and wondered if we’d gotten in over our heads.
Two hours later with bikes unloaded and helmets donned we looked at the view in front of us. Wow!
While our drive up to the trail was rather hairy, the bike ride itself was relaxing and quite easy. We hardly needed to pedal with a slight two percent grade and gravity propelling us to the bottom of the hill. Our biggest challenge through the tunnels was remembering to remove our sunglasses.
There were many people enjoying the trail but we all kept at a safe distance.
After two hours of easy riding and multiple photo stops we pedaled to the end. While we could have jumped on a bus that would return us to our car, we chose to turn around and cycle back to the top. The fifteen mile return was more challenging but we never tired of the view. Stephen and I have been on several Rails-to-Trails and we both agree the Hiawatha truly is the crown jewel.
Travel during a pandemic is a scary proposition but after reading several articles on risk level, it seems that camping is probably a safe option..all things considered! Based on this and other factors, we decided to explore the Pacific Northwest. There are a plethora of parks to explore in this area, particularly North Cascade National Park in Washington. We departed the first of July with a quick stop in Glacier National Park and currently we’re traveling through the panhandle of Idaho and the Coeur D’Alene area.
Kootenai River Falls Suspension Bridge, Montana
Now that we’ve been on the road for a week, Stephen and I have figured out a routine that allows us to remain safe. We have set up our own changing tent and we choose campsites that are less popular and provide ample space.
Remote campgrounds generally mean limited cell and internet connection but quite honestly a break from all the news has been a welcome respite. I feel calm and relaxed for the first time in months
While we expect to be on the road for awhile, there is a second factor that propelled us to travel during a pandemic. We sold our condominium earlier this month and are home free. The Vistabule is our abode until we figure out a new plan. We’d like a warmer climate and are considering a move to Arizona. The timing is uncertain but a plan is slowly unfolding.
Right now we are enjoying the simplicity of a small space, the warm summer months and the opportunity to read, write and explore. I’m happy to report that our camper is completely repaired and leak free. Bert and his team at Vistabule did a great job of finding and repairing the problem.
Stephen continues to research and write baseball articles for SABR (Society for Baseball Research). If you are a baseball fan, check out the links to his most recently published articles.
Along with all of you, we have been in self quarantine. I wrote this blog several weeks ago before Covid-19 was on our radar. I hope that reading about Death Valley NP will create a small diversion as we all shelter in place.
Our quest to visit all the U.S. National Parks continues and because we were in Palm Springs this winter, a trip to Death Valley was within reach. With such a foreboding name, I could not generate much interest in this park… but Stephen was game.
While Stephen spent several days researching and planning a full day of park highlights, I dragged my feet and reminded him that Death Valley is the hottest and driest park in the nation. He was undeterred so I figured a quick drive-by would satisfy him and also allow us to cross this park off our bucket list.
With several spots marked on our map, Stephen began driving while I sat dubiously in the passenger seat sipping coffee and hoping the day would pass quickly. Just ten minutes after crossing the park boundary my entire demeanor changed. I sat up and realized this was no ordinary park. Rugged mountain ranges on both sides enveloped us and the further we drove the landscape became more interesting.
We were in a desolate place but the landscape was stunning. Sharp angled rocks and mountains eventually turned to sandstone and white rolling hills. There was very little vegetation which added to the peculiar but beautiful landscape. Zabriskie Point was our first stop and we embarked on a three mile hike over the white sandstone hills and into the canyons. There were others exploring in the park but we were very much alone in this area.
Following the hike we visited the famous area called Badwater Basin, the lowest North American elevation at 282 feet below sea level. The white stuff in the photo appears to be snow but is actually a salt flat with briny puddles in the background.
The day continued with a trip through Artist Canyon where pink, aqua, and purple hills are the result of metal oxidation in the soil. The beautiful view looked like someone had splashed buckets of paint throughout the hillsides.
We had a terrific day and I apologized to Stephen for dragging my feet. While I originally thought this park was inaccurately named, we encountered some crazy weather events that caused me to think otherwise. An unexpected windstorm stirred up dust thicker than fog and a blinding snow storm appeared out of nowhere. I’m not keen on the name Death Valley but maybe it has earned its reputation. Regardless, this is a beautiful park that is now on our top five list. It is worthy of a second visit.
We’ve had friends ask how the two of us can function in ten feet of space. Here’s what we’ve learned the last two years about maximizing space and functioning efficiently. Besides the Vistabule, our best purchase was two plastic chests of drawers from a big box store. The drawers fit in the backseat of our Highlander and hold our clothes and miscellaneous items. They are easy to access and provide vertical storage without blocking the rear view. We also have a plastic tote with toiletry items that is easy to carry to the washroom.
I have several suction hooks that I place around the Vistabule when we’re parked which hold towels, coats and keys.
We each have headlamps hanging over the bed if we are walking after dark. Two pair of shoes are sufficient…. we wear one and the other pair sits on the floor behind the back seat.
We carry two very old beach chairs that Stephen inherited from his parents. They are aluminum with webbing and we estimate that the orange chair is over 50 years old. It holds a lot of sentimental value.
A plastic fold up table serves as a second kitchen space and is easily stored in the car.
Recently I made some overhead zip pockets in the Vistabule galley…at the moment they hold electric cords and my apron. I’m in the process of creating a Vista-caboose…a tent structure over the galley. I’ll talk about it and share photos in a later post.
Because there are very few bugs in the desert we’ve been converting our bed into a couch during the day. We fling open the doors and enjoy our morning coffee with a view (and a little sun protection). Today we tested our new solar panel. It required minimal setup; unpack, plug-in, aim the cells toward the sun and watch the voltmeter increase.
For those of you who are Vistabule owners and curious about security, we have purchased a few items; a ball lock, a hitch lock and a tire boot. The item we use the most is the ball lock…it’s easy to store and attach. The boot is an extra precaution that we use only occasionally. I’m still trying to figure out a way to secure the solar panel.
As far as exploring, we’ve hiked several mountains and marvel at the beauty of the desert. With all the rain, there are wildflowers carpeting the landscape…it is spectacular. I finally had to ditch my visor for more sun protection. We match!
Stephen and I spent months preparing for this adventure. We upgraded the teardrop with a refrigerator, installed a larger battery and a solar panel that will allow for off-grid camping. We forwarded mail, arranged for visits with family, set up on-line bill payment, opened a new bank account with access across the U.S. and outfitted ourselves with hiking clothes and shoes. Stephen completed his last day of work and retired after 40 years of service in the logistics industry. We loaded the car and provisioned the camper. Finally, we are ready to depart. But… a snow storm and temperatures in the negative teens is causing havoc on our plans. It’s not safe to travel…we will have to delay our departure for a few days.