01/07/2013, Portland, Oregon
The coast of Oregon was on our doorstep, so we hired a car for a week to view a huge variety of marine and land wildlife. Starting with pelicans and elk in the North through to harbor seals, two grey whales and sea lions in the south. Everywhere there were thousands of sea birds, many of them having flown to the offshore islands off the coast to breed. We ambled along the beautiful coast camping in state forest campsites along the way. After reaching a few miles off the North California Coast we turned inland and wound our way through old growth conifer forests in the foothills of the Western Cascades.
At the moment it is over 90 degrees F in Portland and this heat wave is supposed to last for another week as a stationary high hovers over this part of the US. It means for us less cold temps in the mountains and hopefully no snow where we are going. Geoff is intent on having his birthday on the trail so off we go tomorrow not returning to real civilisation until 8th Aug.
17/06/2013, Portland, Oregon
Photo shows the Mississippi crossing from the bus as we arrived in St Louis.
Arrived in Portland after a gruelling trip across the U.S.A. from Roanoke in Virginia to Portland. The cheapest way to cross the country was a non stop bus trip by Greyhound - an American icon, but now owned by Thatcher's child, U.K.'s First Network and is an absolute mess, exacerbated by the fact that Greyhound has a monopoly. Buses went "missing", paperwork for Oregon went missing, communication and good manners went missing, but at least we arrived - eventually.
The trip rolled through 12 of the lower 48 states - Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Idaho and finally Oregon. We left the green and verdant woods and pastures of the Eastern states, saw nothing of Kentucky through to Illinois as it was dark; drove over the Mississippi and then the Missouri on either side of St Louis.
We saw most of the Kansas plains and the several cordilleras of the Rockies and their intermontane basins, by which time it had got quite dry. We finally entered Oregon from the East. As we reached the western side of the Cascade Mountains via the Columbia River Gorge, everything went green again. Snow covered Mt Hood and Mt St Helens came into view as we neared Portland.
We are taking a week's R and R down the Oregon Coast while hopefully the snow melts on the Cascade traverses on our last walk - the 300 miles from the Columbia River to Stevens Pass in Washington state.
13/06/2013, Shenandoah National Park
Photo shows old yachtie friends unexpectedly meeting in the woods. For more photos click HERE Photo above looks down Main Street, Waynesboro with the Appalachians looking rather like the South Downs with trees on behind. Photo is of a Virginia white tailed deer - fairly common in the Shenandoah NP We are not the neatest of people and the AT allowed us to spread out all our worldly camping possessions as long as all edible items including toothpaste and soap were securely hoisted up a tree bough to avoid bears associating a food source with people. Young male thru hikers (those who aim to walk the whole 2170 miles from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine near the Canadian border in a single season) get excited at the generosity of local Virginians. Access Appalachian Trail photo gallery by clicking HERE Arrived in the USA last week. We just about managed to pick out the Statue of Liberty in the New York murk, walked from Battery Point up to Times Square in Manhattan, camped in a wood in Brooklyn and then we headed to Washington DC to visit Alison's aunt who has lived in Maryland for many years. The Herault River down the road from Toby's place. Toby is the youngest member of my family. He's been living in St Jean de Fos in the southern approaches to the Cevennes for many years and works in and around the village pruning vines, serving coffees, fire eating and wobbling around on stilts or a monocycle. He's the most idiosyncratic of the family and was good to catch up with. He knows everybody in the unpretentious village and it was a nice experience to sit around as people ambled past. But merde! That bloody mistral was cold and you had to find the sun! Photo shows Columbus vaguely pointing out where he was sailing to - supposedly the East Indies, although he never got past the Caribbean. We hope the Delta Airlines pilot knows where America is better than Columbus!
An unexpected email and a bout of flu that delayed us meant we had a get together with yachties we hadn't seen for at least two years and right on the edge of the AT. Dave and Judy who had owned the catamaran Freebird, sold by them in Sicily, are touring their own country on the music trail as well as visiting their grandchildren in Charlottesville Virginia. We sailed with them on and off from Darwin right through to Turkey, where we last saw them nearly three years ago. The seemed relaxed and happy with their new land based lifestyle.
Peter and Catherine from The Southern Cross had crossed the Atlantic last year and had berthed in a Maryland marina on the shores of Chesapeake Bay.
Rather to our initial shock, which later turned to amusement, the car hire firm that rented us a vehicle in Waynesboro ran out of small cars which we had ordered and we got a Ford F150 - a rather oversized black ute. When we complained that it would chew too much "gas" up, the rental company said that we could have whatever we wanted free! We weren't sure how to drive the monster as it didn't seem to have any gear stick or hand brake, but all was well in the end. The big, black truck caused a lot of laughs from the other seabillies.
10/06/2013, Waynesboro, VA
Access Appalachian Trail photo gallery by clicking HERE
Holed up in the Quality Inn in the centre of Waynesboro where we came to escape the wrath of Andrea. We both have the flu, or more correctly, I am recovering, Alison is on temp highs and not a happy hiker. How the hell we picked up a flu bug in the woods is almost beyond belief - we've hardly had much close contact with anybody, but we'll have to wait till Alison's temp drops back down again. Best advice we got was from our kiwi mates on Quo Vadis in turbulent Turkey "Book into a 5 star for a couple of days and get better" Not that serious and an opportunity to explore a real unassuming upstate town.
Bill Bryson passed through here with his mate Katz nearly 20 years ago and gave the town a bad write up. He then made the mistake of having a promo for his book right here a little later after publication. Have had some rude comments made about Bryson by several people who perhaps know more about their own leg of the trail than he did. The guy who brought us into town said he remembered going to the meeting and telling him he'd sue him if he came to town again. All over a description of a supposedly wild walk to and from K Mart! Our friendly driver, who has lived here most of his life, said that Waynesboro was sort of average - "It is what it is!"
Actually, Bryson was a totally novice wilderness walker and his descriptions about the walk in the woods have kept us amused at night in the tent and have been pretty accurate.
As for Waynesboro, it is a really widely spread out sort of place with a small, older CBD. It's an effort keeping these old parts of town alive in car mad places but it seems that there has been a real effort here. Of course people just drive everywhere - the only ones who don't are the thru hikers.
We have a big pharmacy, hardware store, dollar stores (cheap stuff) and a large supermarket all within easy walking distance of where we are staying, so that must give the town some added points. The most depressing sight anywhere we have been in urban America is the obesity factor. There are a lot of seriously overweight people here. In fact, here in town, the leanest, healthiest people around (apart from those with flu of course) are those who have walked all the way from distant Georgia. Most of the thru hikers heading North left Springer Mountain in March and have been walking ever since.
08/06/2013, Virginian Appalachians
Access Appalachian Trail photo gallery by clicking HERE
Our Internet and phone connection were not that good so we were unaware of the closing in of tropical storm "Andrea" that cut a swathe of strong winds and flooding up the east coast. We were however rather wondering why the wind had turned north easterly and then a few hours later followed a 36 hour deluge which kept us confined to the tent for what seemed an endless period. Just about every named and unnamed bug was trying to shelter in our tiny tent as well.
Made a swift exit from the south entrance to Shenandoah National Park as Andrea was dowsing the Appalachians with persistent rain. We had spent a full day in the tent in the woods while the rain pelted down and didn't fancy another. Got a lift with a jeep after two hours on Skyline Drive - the only vehicle on a wet, soggy, misty day. Now in the small town of Waynesboro to wait for the storm to veer off to wards New York and out into the Atlantic and re stock.
The AT stretches a full 110 miles through the Shenandoah section of the Appalachians - that's 170 km. The nice thing about this part of the trail is that it continuously crosses and intersects with the Skyline Drive - the sealed road that runs the length of the ridge. We found it pleasant to walk the road in the cool and quiet of the morning and dive back onto the trail when the road either got too busy or too hot. The road often had superb views at lookouts either west towards the Alleghenies or East towards piedmont country. The other benefit was it was easier to see any wildlife with the wider viewing expanse and all of our black bear sightings were close to the road.
We are now 17 days southwards along the Appalachian Trail and both safe and fitter. Six bear sightings but hurried escapes by the animals deep into the woods prevented any good photos being taken. Plenty of deer, tortoises and bugs kept us busy as we ploughed our way southwards along the seemingly endless canopy of trees. Hikers passed us hurrying northwards to complete the challenge. We ambled along soaking up peaceful campsites and stunning vistas.
We have also noticed other subtle changes. Black locust trees, mountain laurels and others we don't know the names of have burst into bloom. The first spotted, gawky foals have started to appear - one we passed just before the rain started must have been born that day as it could hardly stagger off the trail.
We have met a far more varired cross section of hikers and other Americans and even a few Europeans - old and young, guys and girls, day, weekend, section and thru hikers. All have been friendly and ready to stop for a yak - especially the ones about our age. It's a great way to find out that not all Americans fit the international stereotyped image!
08/06/2013, Shenandoah National Park
Just an added comment on Sheldon's advice (bear stories abound in North America and we have listened to many - we even met a park worker who is confident he saw an Eastern Mountain Lion flit across the Skyline Drive).
We just follow accepted advice on bears wherever we go and as far as we know there is very little problem with bears in Shenandoah. We put up anthing that has food, trash, smelly stuff and packs if necessary up on a fine but strong line on a branch that can't support a bear's weight before evening. All the shelters have bear poles with hooks where hikers store their bags. The National Park campsites have heavy, secured bear bins which you have to use if you don't have a vehicle or arrive on a bike or motorbike.
The logic of having a huge, cavernous steel bin big enough to put a whole hiker tent in escapes us but guess somebody made a lot of money out of it!
We've also met thru hikers (the NoBos) who haven't seen a single bear since leaving Georgia. For us, they are the essence of the unpredictable North American wilds so we can't see enough of them - but they are not invited around for tea!
Later, just into the park when we were musing over whether anybody would notice us putting a tent on a fire road a guy came down the trail looking for hikers to hand out cold beer to!
27/05/2013, Front Royal, Virginia, USA
Day 1 to 7 of the Appalachian Trail
Harpers Ferry to Edward Lesser shelter 11 miles (17.7 km's)
After 6 1/2 days on the famed Appalachian trail that extends 2,176 miles (3300 km) from Georgia to Maine, it wasn't quite the broad, well maintained trail that we expected. It is like many Turkish trails - rugged and rocky in places - but differs because the light of day was barely seen as we walked "in the woods" as described by Bill Bryson. In fact it is like walking through a never ending long green tunnel - the trail's unofficial nickname.
Fortunately, as the trail is nearly 100 years old, a shelter system has been put in place at about 13 km intervals but only three sided. We prefer to pitch a tent. The first day took us 17.7 km to a campsite in the forest near to the Edward Lesser shelter. The first day was sweltering - at over 32 degrees it was much hotter than we expected and a real slog with a 10 min walk to the spring. The shelters all have access to spring water but it appears rarely close to any shelter. A rather annoying walk down and back up a steep slope. You might guess who has that job!!!!
The second day took us a further 18 km - an unending slog up and down in the low thirties through the seemingly endless green tunnel with unfortunately intermittent water supplies. We met many hikers along the way, but none overtook us, hooray! It seems we are two of the few going south. Many of these are testing their speed skills along the way going north mostly in their early 20's and many on their own and mostly young men. It seems that these young Americans are either testing their endurance skills or staking their claim on their country. Not to say there aren't any older ones - there certainly are. The Bears Den Hostel was very welcoming and after having put up our tent on the lawn they suggested we came in to the hostel at no additional cost as their was a severe thunderstorm warning. It did rain heavily as predicted but we did have a peaceful night.
Day 3 Bears Den to remote campsite 12 km on
A public holiday, Memorial Day, was coming up, so walked a short distance in rugged territory very similar to New Zealand with thick forest and countless streams and ridges. The only wildlife spotted so far has been squirrels and the occasional white tailed deer. No one has passed us yet but we have seen about 15 hikers route marching in the opposite direction, mostly trying to get to their destination as fast as possible. Heard some mammal noises in the evening so put all food slung around a branch to prevent bears coming near the tent. several t/storms went through in the afternoon and torrential rain.
Day 4 to Dick's Dome Shelter 17 km
Completed what is called the "roller coaster" - 10 ups and downs. Much less rugged than nz walking territory, though. No animals sighted and went through sky meadows state park. The sweltering temps dropped dramatically to near freezing (!), so less water required. No animal sightings. Passed some older than average hikers to day. also some section hikers as it was the memorial day holiday so more people around.
Camped in cool conditions 0.2 km from shelter in rugged forest. All the miles seem long and the vegetation has little variation. The track was better today than any other day.
Day 5 Dick's Dome to Jim & Molly Denton shelter 16 km
Many ups and downs today but more gradual than the roller coaster. no mammals sighted and very few birds, plenty of green woodland, hikers going north and two lots of trail magic. These are coolers placed where the at crosses the road and well wishers leave cool bins with sodas, fruit and trail bars. A tradition it seems common along the A.T., especially in the summer heat. However the last 2 days have been far cooler than the first two. We have been wearing light fleeces instead of t-shirts and running out of water has not been a problem.
Our first experience of trail magic today. We had read about it but didn't think about it until someone told us that there was some coolers by the roadside where the track crosses the highway. and so there was in fact 4 coolers of iced sodas apples and snack bags. Over the next hill there was another cooler padlocked to a fence with the photo of the 2 people that were the generous donators.
Most of the hikers we have met are going north and are 18 to 30, some packing in 25 miles a day!. it must be one of those macho things that young men do. A small % are women - say around 20% - that are hiking the 2000+ miles of the trail.
We are just about to start our walking journey for 5 weeks on the Appalachian Trail starting from Harper's Ferry, which is an old, historical settlement on the Potomac River on the border of Maryland and West Virginia. We have been surprised about the amount of beautiful deciduous woodland we have seen everywhere since leaving New York.
2012 Mediterranean Spain and France
20/05/2013, St Jean De Fos
2012 Mediterranean Spain and France
We finally left the boat at Las Palmas and headed for a brief stop in Barcelona and then on to Montpellier in France to see Toby. The cheapest flight to New York was from London and getting to London via Barcelona and Nimes near Avignon in France was a worthwhile diversion. France was a country we had missed when we were crossing the Med last year due to the continual mistral winds. These were blowing for the 3 days we spent in the Montpellier area.
It seems that inhabitants of the district have some interesting folklore about this notorious wind that blows down the Rhone Valley and out into the Med.
2012 Mediterranean Spain and France
Photo above looks down Main Street, Waynesboro with the Appalachians looking rather like the South Downs with trees on behind.
Photo is of a Virginia white tailed deer - fairly common in the Shenandoah NP
We are not the neatest of people and the AT allowed us to spread out all our worldly camping possessions as long as all edible items including toothpaste and soap were securely hoisted up a tree bough to avoid bears associating a food source with people.
Young male thru hikers (those who aim to walk the whole 2170 miles from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine near the Canadian border in a single season) get excited at the generosity of local Virginians.
Access Appalachian Trail photo gallery by clicking HERE
Arrived in the USA last week. We just about managed to pick out the Statue of Liberty in the New York murk, walked from Battery Point up to Times Square in Manhattan, camped in a wood in Brooklyn and then we headed to Washington DC to visit Alison's aunt who has lived in Maryland for many years.
The Herault River down the road from Toby's place.
Toby is the youngest member of my family. He's been living in St Jean de Fos in the southern approaches to the Cevennes for many years and works in and around the village pruning vines, serving coffees, fire eating and wobbling around on stilts or a monocycle. He's the most idiosyncratic of the family and was good to catch up with. He knows everybody in the unpretentious village and it was a nice experience to sit around as people ambled past. But merde! That bloody mistral was cold and you had to find the sun!
Photo shows Columbus vaguely pointing out where he was sailing to - supposedly the East Indies, although he never got past the Caribbean. We hope the Delta Airlines pilot knows where America is better than Columbus!