Strickler Knob Overnight Backpacking Recap and Meal List

You know that song by Katy Perry, "Hot n Cold"? If you aren't familiar with Virginia's weather patterns, her lyrics offer an accurate depiction. Which makes any advanced planning for a backpacking trip around Virginia rather dysfunctional. Especially in the winter. One day it's 70, the next it's 23. We had planned this trip several weeks ahead of time, on a day that was sunny and 70. Literally. Two other people were planning to join us and a three day- two-nigh hike was on the books. Of course, none of that happened.  

The weather turned south a few days before the trip (sound familiar?), our crew dropped off and plans started to change. A bummer, but understandable. That's the nature of backpacking; unpredictable, flexible living that requires a go-with-the-flow mentality. So, Friday rolled around and Joel and I jumped in the Tahoe - just the two of us. Not sure where we were going, but sure that we were going somewhere. Our backseat, missing a compadre, was empty and lonesome but, it made stealth camping an option. So, we took our time making our way to the mountains. One of my favorite spots for Thai was along our route and naturally, we decided to swing by for a little time in the city. Note : Thai hot is far beyond our average American standard of hot. Joel had to learn that the hard way. You know it's bad when the waitress sympathetically pats you on the back while refilling your water glass for the fifth time. Eeek. 

tips for urban car campin

Knowing, before we left, that we would be alone for the trip, we decided ahead of time (for like the first time ever) to spend a night Urban stealth camping out of our car. The past few trips we'd taken, over this Winter season, had gifted us with enough nights of unpredicted stealth car camping that we had finally learned, the hard way, how NOT to stealth camp. This trip, we left behind 3/4 of the random gear living in the Tahoe. No need for wetsuits and fins in the mountains (unless....No, No need). And, we cut out some prep time for a much-needed stealth camping art project - Reflectix as window blinds. Oh man, what a worthy project. Let me just say - GAME CHANGER. I'm talking set up ease, blocking out light efficiency, privacy, and even stealth level. Ten out of Ten would recommend.

Our night sleeping in the car was prime. We were up early the next morning for Shenandoah Joe's coffee and Bodo's Bagels. Two of our favorites and I highly recommend for pre/post trip stops around downtown Charlottesville.

Meal ideas for backpacking

Thanks to the bitterly cold weather, and the aftermath of spicy Thai, we dragged our feet a little getting to the trail. We opted for a new route (than what was planned) on a different mountain. It was somewhere around 3:30, in the afternoon, when we finally pulled up the dirt road where a trailhead and parking area would give us access to the Massanutten trail. Unfortunately, the road was closed a good ways out from the trailhead. We pulled off into a parking space where a sign on the tree read, "No overnight parking or visitation." Great. Looking around, the signs seemed to be designated for a trail leading in the opposite direction of where would be walking. So, we moved the car to the other end of the parking lot, packed up our gear and hoped for the best.

backpacking meal prep

Hiking along the dirt road, beyond the closed gate, a few day hikers passed by making sure to remind us of the predicted overnight lows (we know people!), and reassured us about our choice of parking. Since we were unable to drive to the parking area where we had planned to pick up the trail, we turned onto the first trailhead we came across. Being late afternoon, and not having done much research for this particular loop, we promised to stop at the first campsite. Luckily, two steps in, the first campsite was immediately on our right. A good start and a perfect leeway that enabled us to hike on, knowing we could always return back if need be. If anything, we had nailed down a good spot for car camping in the area.     

The Orange blazed Massanutten trail, which we had picked up, leads you along a ridgeline without much change in elevation for the first mile or so. Then, it steadily descends into the valley along a river bed. There, the trail opens up into a moderate sized group campsite. Complete with a water source, fire pit and a few decently level spots for 2-3 tents. Two guys sat, smoking cigs and snacking in the middle of the campsite. They ushered us in, promising they were leaving soon and mentioned there weren't many camp options after this one. We took their word on it and set up camp.

Massanutten trail

We had a good fire, but a cold night with lows around 23°F (I even slept with an S.O.L. Emergency Blanket) In the morning, we woke up to what Joel thought, at first, to be a bear - then, he figured was an early to rise trail runner. I stand by the belief that it was a huge raven flying through camp. We'll never truly know. It was far to cold to be worth slipping out of the tent to catch a peak. And so be it, whatever it was, the trail running bear raven made for a good wake up call. We made a morning fire to thaw our waters and offset the pain of waking up to a 20° morning. Also, our MSR stove had trouble lighting - which we are still slightly perplexed by. We haven't had an issue in similar temps - maybe it was bad fuel?  I remember reading once where someone suggested sleeping with the canister before breakfast. Not so sure I approve of that idea - especially since ours smells of gas. (If you have any suggestions, I'd love to hear them)

meal plan for backpacking

After packing up camp, we continued along Massanutten trail for a moderate climb up to the Strickler Knob trail intersect. The Strickler Knob is pink blazed, marked mostly on rocks by trail maintenance. Following this trail feels kind of like an easter egg hunt. One part because of the blaze color and two parts because the trail seems to end several times before reaching the summit.

We found an awesome campsite along a cliff close to the summit. Enough room for maybe one tent on a bit of a slant. But, on a return trip with the right winds, I'd probably choose this spot. The Strickler Knob summit is a fun rock scramble/climb over a group of boulders. Gorgeous practically 360° views. Just make sure, for a cold, windy day that you are prepped for a frigid summit after climbing out of the protection of the last few bolders.  

hiking Strickler knob
rock scrambles in virginia
Best of the Blue Ridge

Food wise:

Meals for Overnight Backpacking trip


Since we would only be spending one night backpacking, we kept our meals pretty simple. We could've gone stoveless, but our undying love for coffee wouldn't allow it.  Here's what we packed:

Dinner:

-Turkey & Cheese Sandwich (because we could)

-Idahoan Four Cheese Mashed Potatoes  ( <3 ) 

Dessert: 

- Trader Joes Dark Chocolate Truffle Bar (Da Bomb!)

Breakfast:

- Oakmeal

-pour over 

Snacking Lunch: 

-Field Trip Jerky 

-Protein Bars

-Nut and Fruit mix

- Joel's solo Snickers

 

How Not To Sleep In Your Car

“24” – the temperature gauge on the rearview mirror stated the obvious – it was frigid out. We pulled the Tahoe into a hotel parking lot just after one in the morning and scrambled around the luggage. Between snowboards, firewood and camping gear, sleeping space was slim. A snowplow circled the lot, spreading salt in preparation for the incoming snowstorm. We inflated our mats, covered the windows, and climbed into our sleeping bags. Our mats, with not enough room, laid one, half way on top of the other - Joel’s, partially on the wheel well. My freezing cold face relentlessly reminded me of how this was rather unfavorable sleeping conditions for someone fighting a cold, like myself.   I nudged Joel, “Uhm, honey, this probably wasn’t our best idea.”

72 hours in the Poconos - Pennsylvania in the dead of winter

“ It’s the dead of winter!” the snarky hotel concierge replied after Joel innocently asked what we should see while in Jim-Thorpe. We looked at each other, chuckled and walked away. Poor lady must hate winter. I guess not everyone was as excited as we that, just hours before, a winter storm had dumped on this little Pennsylvania town. Snow was still falling outside, giving a winter wonderland feel to an already snowglobe-esk town. The Poconos, never particularly high on my desirable destinations list, gave quite an impressive show. In our 72 hours there, we explored Pennslyvania wilderness and rambled through some rather corky towns all tucked amongst the mountains and surrounding area – and, the “dead of winter” made them all the more lovely.

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After a long drive, tons of tolls – make sure to travel with quarters and single bills if you go – and a night of pretty unfavorable car camping conditions, we woke up just outside of the Poconos to freshly fallen snow. We grabbed breakfast from a Wawa gas station (arguably the best part of road tripping anywhere on the East Coast North of the Mason-Dixon line) and headed to Jim-Thorpe for day one in the Poconos.

 


Visit Jim-Thorpe


Jim-Thorpe is a must see town of Pennsylvania (though, your hotel concierge may try to tell you otherwise). The streets of downtown, amongst other aspects, have helped coin the city’s nickname, “Little Switzerland.” Tall buildings with Switzerland-esk architecture, each painted a different color, are home to local shops, restaurants, inns and a few townhouses. They line the streets, squeezed against one another, leaving only enough room for the seldom alleyway. Brushed white with snow, every part of the town made it feel as if I had fallen into a classic Christmas movie.

 

Exhausted from lack of sleep the night before, we did a few touristy things in the town and then crashed at the Jim-Thorpe Inn. Staying at the Inn, one of the “Swiss” buildings on the main street, was a highlight of visiting this little town. I honestly wouldn’t suggest planning to stay in Jim-Thorpe for more than a day or two (maybe in the summer season?). It’s the kind of town that is completely worth seeing but doesn’t take long to see.

The train ride through the mountains is a tourist favorite. It was a gorgeous ride with the freshly fallen snow – plus it was a low energy activity - ideal since we were both half asleep.

 


Lehigh Gorge 


Day two, we were rested and ready to explore some of Pennsylvanian's wilderness – more the reason we had come. From downtown Jim-Thorpe, miles of trail weave along the river following the railway (a better option if you don’t want to buy train tickets). For a more remote experience of the Lehigh Gorge, just outside the town of Jim-Thorpe, a State Game Land parking area serves as a trailhead for a network of hikes. However, with plans to mountain hop, we stuck with a shorter trial that led to, what we had read, was the best areal view of the Lehigh Gorge.

 

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Delaware Water Gap


From the Gorge, we headed to the Delaware Water Gap – another popular wilderness area in the region. The Appalachian Trail runs through parts of the Delaware Water Gap Recreation Area and we had read of promising waterfalls and rocky climbs. Unfortunately, a good bit of the park’s road system was shut down due to winter conditions. We didn’t see all that we had hoped, but we saw enough to know the park would definitely be worth a return visit.


Downtown Stroudsburg


After a full day of snowy hikes, we crashed in a slightly sketchy hotel – you know, the kind with low popcorn ceilings, dimly lit hallways, and paint chipping off the brown metal doors – close to downtown Stroudsburg.  We were happy to find a more lively town, in comparison to Jim-Thorpe, with a few promising local business.  Downtown Stroudsburg is even home to a surprisingly impressive local coffee shop - Cafe Duet.


Snowboarding in the Poconos 


Our last day in the Poconos was New Years Eve. Joel had made pretty grand plans for us to ring in the New Year slope side. If you are looking to snowboard while in Pennsylvania (which if you luck out with fresh snow like we did, you totally should!) there is a handful of options when it comes to best ski resorts in the Pocons. For us, a New Years celebration was of high importance. So, Bear Creek Mountain Resort was our pick – being that they have the best rating for nightlife. If you are a budgeted traveler, like us, buying lift tickets for night ski is a great economic option. The resort set off fireworks. We danced and watched the ball drop with the strange, eclectic group all ski resorts seem to attract and snowboarded until 1 am. A perfect way to bid farewell to 2016 and a grand finale to our 72 hours in the Poconos.  


A Few Other Favorite Finds Along The Way :


A Thru Hikers Love Story - from the AT to the PCT


“And there it happened… it didn’t hit me at Abol Bridge, or when I wrote my last register entry, or when we ate the last supper at the Birches, or even the moments shared with the Katahdin letters beneath my cold, pruned palms- when I held my lips to that wooden sign and thanked it…It happened when I was in the back seat of my friend Hannah’s car. I was staring out the window with tears running down my face. Knowing that the mountain was getting smaller and smaller behind me. I was trying not to breathe too loudly, to save myself from needing/trying to explain this feeling to her…or that being in a fast moving vehicle, in general, made me feel uneasy. Leaving Millinocket, Maine was the most confusing, conflicting, and rawest emotion I had experienced on trail yet. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. Seeing my friends leave with their real families or seeing them get on planes to go back to their real homes was really hard… it all happened so fast. There I was sitting in the car, my hair in knots, in clothing that I had been wearing for months- “clean” but dirt and salt stained, dirt deep in my nails, with skin above my knees, so brown and tight from the sun, and I was “going home.” And that’s when it happened, driving away from the mountains was the first time I have ever felt genuine homesickness. I felt a pit in my stomach, a mourning, a true heartbreak…That night I took the longest bath I had ever taken in my life, where I sat and stared at my reflection in the faucet, periodically draining the cold water and replacing it with hot.”

I wrote that paragraph on September 17th on my one month anniversary of completing the AT.  I was not planning on sharing it publicly, though with reflecting on the year, and the impact that thru-hiking has had on my life - it feels wonderful to share it and read it again. It feels even better to say that even though most would read that paragraph as a sad story and probably the beginning of “post-trail depression”, to me, it’s a love story and I am so thankful to have loved something so strong.

First off, I would like to thank the beautiful and inspirational duo, Grace and Joel for sharing my Appalachian Trail journey with such a supportive community of adventurers! With how gloomy and concerning the world may seem at times, it’s refreshing to have a network of people following their dreams and spreading the love. Secondly, I am going to do my best to regularly share my progress with the next grand adventure with you all...What is the next grand adventure, Isabelle? Well...thank you for asking...


A Southbound thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail!!!


(with an estimated start date of mid June-early July- Weather permitting/snow fall)



What?! How long even IS that? 


2,650 wampin’ miles (that’s 450 miles longer than the AT). 


Which states does is go through? 


California, Oregon, and Washington. Trail runs from Mexican border in Campo, California through Manning Provincial Park, British Columbia. (Yes, a passport is required) 


What are some of the biggest challenges? 


Definitely quite a few! *Some* may say more challenges than the AT, I say different: Water scarcity is a big one; it is not uncommon for hikers to camel up enough water at one source or cache to suffice for an entire day...forcing the hiker to average a huge mile day just to get to the next source while meeting maximum weight and carrying capacity in pack.  So the Desert is a thing not so common on the East Coast-intense heat and sun exposure is a big concern, often hikers carry sun umbrellas to help with this. Towns are significantly far (some more than an hour away in worst case scenario) from trail heads making food resupply and resources difficult to access, additionally making hitching more challenging as well. Because I am going southbound, a big concern of mine is snowfall... I will be taking crampons and an ice axe. During my free time, I can most likely be found looking up youtube videos on how to do a self arrest and, separately and equally important, prevent hypothermia. 



Going solo?


 Yes, but like the AT, meeting people along the trail is part of what makes it so magical! Hiking with a small group during a difficult/questionable section is extremely common. You are a part of community and everyone looks out for one another. 


Why Southbound and not Northbound? 


I was a “NOBO” for the AT and it was a great experience. The majority of people go North and even the guidebook for the PCT is written only for those going North. Going South is a new challenge for me. I like the idea of going against the current. Also, I have a dream job finishing up in early June, so the timing is ideal for the Sobo weather window. Lastly, hiking does cost money unfortunately, so the more time work equals more time hiking. 

Last question/answer for now:



Why? 



I’m simply not done with thru-hiking. Like those who go to a temple to meditate, I am called to the mountains to practice- the end goal is to apply your practice to all settings and walks of life. For me, the hard part was never the hiking. In fact, I found the best version of myself when I hiked the AT; I felt a light within me radiate so bright where my only function was to love and accept the present moment fully. Transitioning back to the old world was the important challenge, especially once leaving behind a lifestyle seemingly so simple and good. My goal for this thru-hike is to simply enjoy it for the treasure it is. I used to be critical of those who hiked just because the trail was there, because I thought, and still do think, of it as a sacred thing, but there is a beauty and honesty to those people. There is no reason not to do exactly what makes you happy. What makes me happy is to have a direction, a purpose, and to be self-dependent. What makes me happy is that I am proudest of myself when I am out there. What makes me happy is to be accepted into a community of people who are united, diverse, and inspired.  What makes me happy is that thru-hiking allows me to appreciate this worlds natural beauty and I feel connected with the Earth’s elements as if they are my brothers and sisters. What makes me happy is that my body thrives when I ask it to walk, not once did I experience a Rheumatoid Arthritis flare up on trail and I was able to feel the natural communication between my body and my mind. Do I believe this can be done off the trail? Yes. But the opportunity is presenting itself to keep walking and my heart says YES. And I am so excited! 
 

Appalachian Trail Thru Hike


Keep Seekin’ muh brothers and sisters!
Rucker
 

The Sweet Simplicity of Family Vacation; Ocean Isle Nc

 How to Have the Best Family Vacation

The best family vacation isn’t always about where you go, but what you do with your time. That’s the sweet simplicity of family vacation. It’s not as much about the packing list, the prime location or the activities planned. The most important element to family vacation is the people.

Family Dinner

Joel and I love family vacation. Often when we travel, it’s just the two of us. So, spending time around the people we love is always a gift. I'm rather positive that no matter where we were, the week would have been great. Just for the sake of getting together, slowing down, enjoying each other’s company and embracing a beautiful place. Which is exactly what last week looked like for us. We drove down the coast of our very own state of North Carolina and bunked up in a beach house for a week of family meals, poolside chills and dips in the sea. It really was one of those “all you need is love” kinda weeks. 

Vacation Home

The early birds woke up every morning, had our coffee, worked out, made breakfast and sat around talking. A few hours later, the sleepy crew would roll out of bed and stomp up the stairs to the third floor kitchen. Then we would all sit around for a second round of breakfast.

We enjoyed the slow days with no agenda - where you can sleep in as late as you want or get up early with the sun. Early mornings were my personal favorite. This might surprise those who know me well.  But there was something about family vacation that made waking up seem easier. Plus, the more hours you're awake the longer your vacation lasts right?  But to me, it was a meaningful time full of beauty and simple moments. Everything around you seems to be brushed in the golden light of the morning sun and wrapped with the cool breeze of the young day.

A since of peace encompasses the hours to follow because the only thing required is spending time with each other. It doesn't matter what is done as long as its done together. Maybe you making a meal, perhaps you partake in group activities, or even just sit outdoors. It truly doesn't matter. Its all good. Its all perfect. Its all just sweet time spent together. 


Its The Simple Things, DOne Together.


I always love to get outside in the morning. Even a city's downtown could seem remote in the early hours. The hustle and bustle has a slow start as the world begins waking up. People are still tucked away in their homes and it presents time to just focus on the present moment.  Here are a few of my favorite activities from the early hours of our days spend at Ocean Isle. 

 

Yoga On The Beach 

We found a local yoga studio that offered a beach sunrise yoga class. All the early birds in the family signed up and went together. [It was Joel's first time practicing yoga with an instructor!] The instructor did a great job working with all the different levels of experience. She talked through each move and offered variations for each position. We enjoyed the fun out of the box family activity. Yoga is a part of several of our family member's daily routine. But, getting to share the experience and do some in a beautiful setting is what made it memory material. Joel has mixed feelings about it. But, i caught him later that day trying out one of the stretches he learned. Sooo...Im going to take the leap and say he loved it. 

Beach Yoga
Ocean Isle

Bike Ride At Low Tide

Renting bikes was one of the best parts of our time in Ocean Isle. With a rather inexpensive rental fee, we got a few to keep at the house for the week. And, it created an effortless option for quality time. You just grab a group and set off anywhere. No destination required; the journey is good enough. We had an extra special treat as the tides aligned perfectly with our trip. Dead low was early in the morning and as the waves retreated out into the depths, they left behind packed sand ideal for biking. Taking advantage of such a gift, we explored the island following along the water's edge.  

Beach Vacation
Best Family Activities

Explore The Local Shops

Some people love shopping together. And that's fine - whatever draws you together. I'm not a huge shopper but, I don't mind perusing, especially if its through local businesses. Throw in a local coffee shop stop and Joel and I are both in! We were excited to discover that Ocean Isle had a rather impressive local Coffee shop - at least for a small beach town. They had both good coffee and Acai bowls! What!? My dream coffee shop. The owner and employees were warm, friendly and knew a thing or two about what they were making. Big thumbs up from us to Drift Coffee.   

Drift Coffee
Drift Coffee

Once morning hours passed, our days were filled with lots of soccer, swimming, and chill-axing. Even a few outdoor showers, wildflowers, sibling doggie piles, afternoon thunderstorms and beautiful sunsets. We loved loved loved Ocean Isle. But what really filled our hearts was a week of uninterrupted time with our family. It's so easy to let miles fall between us as we venture out into life. But coming together is a all the more rich; getting to share hobbies, exchange stories, and create memories. 

Beach trip
Outdoor Shower
Hippie Surfer Girl
Beach Scene
Awkward Family Photos
Best Ways to Relax
Sunset over the Ocean
Sunset at the Beach

Thanks To These Two Pots of Gold For Getting Us All Together

Rainbow over the ocean

If you're headed to the beach here's My packing List - So you have one less thing to think about!


vintage suitcase
Surf Gear

Beach Trip Packing List

  • Swim Suits
  • Beach Cover Ups
  • Work Out/Yoga Clothes
  • Comfy/Fancy/ And everyday outfits
  • Tolietries 
  • Easy Healthy Beach Snacks
  • Spring Suit/Rashguard/ Or SPF shirt
  • Water Toys (Surfboard, body board, or even just a big inflatable)
  • SUNSCREEN
  • Speaker
  • Beach Bag or Cooler
  • Coffee Gear!
Packing for Surf trip

Until Next Time My Dear Friends, 

Much Love

-J&G

Traveling Couple

Be Strengthened by the Wild; Backpacking the Linville Gorge Wilderness

My husband (Joel) and I have collectively done a handful of overnight backpacking expeditions. But “overnight” has been the extent of our time frame. So, for Joel’s birthday this May, we decided to take on a trip we’d been dreaming about – a three day hike through the Linville Gorge Wilderness.

Pisgah National Forest

We will both tell you it was the most challenging, yet rewarding thing we’ve done in quite a while.  And mind you, we just finished living and traveling aboard a 27’ sailboat. The challenges brought on by our tiny ship were more of the mentally exerting type. The Linville Gorge was three days of both physical and mental trials. Yet, the view from the mountain peak (quite literally) was well worth the burning muscles, tired shoulders and sweaty brows it took to climb to the top. 

Linville Gorge

 

Joel is a planner. He’s a detail guy and the king of research. Leave it to him to find the good info, the best gear and the hardest route. He joined a few forums, did some studying and bought a guidebook. We sat down to pour over our map a few days before we planned to begin the hike. I’m truly convinced he enjoys finding the hardest route. The full Linville Gorge Hiking Circuit is comprised of 16,605 ft of elevation change and 33.93 miles. We compromised a little, discussed time constraints, and chose a modified version of the Linville Gorge Circuit. I had an inkling our untrained bodies would have trouble completing the entire trek in a three day period. We would both later be thankful for Joel’s willingness to make changes to our route.

Osprey Backpack

 

Backpacks stocked, we parked at our trailhead and eagerly walked into the wilderness. The path was well-beaten and clear signs marked the trail. Joel, looking down at his guidebook, regretfully informed me we’d already started off on the wrong trail. We returned to where our car sat and, following the words of our book, walked to the middle of the gravel parking lot and took a sharp right into the forest. What little trail there was, had been covered by the lush green of spring. Our hike plans for much of day one and day two routed us on trails unrecognized by the National Park Service. I could already tell my highly allergic skin would be thankful for the shield of my hiking pants as we marched through poison ivy. 

Halfway through the first day, we met the Linville River by its side. This would be the first of many views we would see of her rushing water. After a quick rest and a handful of almonds, we followed the river to meet our next trail.

Linville River

For the rugged adventurer type, the Linville Gorge is a Gold Mine. It’s described as the Grand Canyon of the East. And its loop is said to be the most difficult route east of the Rockies.  If you’re up for the challenge, the Gorge will win your heart as it pushes you, wears you out and then rewards you with beauty. Those who have walked its soil before have left behind many scattered campsites. Each with their small fire pit assembled from rocks found nearby. The best sites come with an incredible view and level ground to sleep on. Weekend hikers must apply for a required permit through National Park Service. However, if you go on a weekday (like we did) not only will you not need a permit but you might just have the whole place to yourself. For all three days we spent in the Linville Gorge Wilderness, we only saw one other couple and their dogs. It was a refreshing seclusion to find ourselves alone amongst the soaring mountains, rushing river and all the many wild things.

Camping in Linville Gorge
Alps backpacking tent
North Carolina Mountains
MANDA Sunpaste
appalachian mountains
best backpacking tips

We filtered spring water as it trickled out from the mountain. Slowly our chlorine filled city water was replaced with the refreshing, pure water of the Linville Mountains. In the next few days, before complete our loop, we would scale several mountains, crawl up and down 70 degree inclines, cross the rushing river, get lost, follow our compass, bathe in the river, sleep by its edge, realize we over packed, be awestruck by faultless views and tango with a few copperhead snakes. Our three days in the Gorge were refreshing and beautiful. Each day after breakfast and coffee, we packed up our site and walked until dinnertime. Every night, we made it to our campsite exhausted yet accomplished set up camp, made dinner, sat by the fire, hung our food from the bears and fell into bed before sundown.   

filtering water
backpacking guide
using a map
coffee gear for camping
patagonia down jacket
MSR
camp cooking
outdoor adventure
how to backpack
bouldering
yoga for backpackers
Gorgeous Mountain range

 

In the most extreme and exhausting moments of our hike, we dreamed of our return to the parking lot where our car sat waiting. But, in our three-day trek we fell in love with the challenge and adventure that accompanies backpacking in the Gorge. Out in the silence of wilderness, you begin to hear a new orchestra. The stomp of your hiking boots, the beating of your own heart, the rivers waters, wind sweeping through the mountain, the drip of a mountain spring; the harmony of nature. Your mind, always rushing to keep up with the demands of society, begins to slow and focus on the present moment. Just as you are refreshed with peace, you become tuned in to your physical state of exhaustion. You’ve pushed your body all day carrying your means for survival on your back. But, there is a clear goal to reach that day. And, your options are clear as well. You either press on or give up. There’s no room for procrastination in the wilderness, only growth. You tell yourself you can keep going, keep climbing and every step you take you grow – stronger, wiser and confident.

SO, if you’ve been dreaming about a trip that scares you, that you feel is out of your league – DO IT. Take it from a Newbie in the world of backpacking; you can do it and you should do it. Do your research, be prepared, and then go let the wilderness challenge you, grow you, and restore you all the same.   

Places to hike near Appalachian State
Blue Ridge Mountains

Much Love 

- G

Viva Cuba - Why you should travel to Cuba ASAP


Our Take on Cuba; Best things to do, places to see, and ways to tour Cuba. 


Cuban Flag

Sailing to Cuba has been a difficult feat for American sailors for quite a while. A country so close has been practically inaccessible for over forty years. Recently, the possibility of sailing to Cuba has become a buzzing topic amongst American sailors and, we couldn’t help but latch onto the idea. The little we knew about Cuba was centered on their banded cigars and our old school American cars. So, we couldn’t resist the opportunity to get to know the country through our own eyes.

Sailing to Cuba

The morning after one of my best friend’s wedding, Joel and I loaded up our 1993 Nissan Hard Body and drove the seven-hour trek to Charleston, South Carolina. We stopped just long enough to join Asheton and Nina, two of the four friends we would join for the journey, in their suburban. Together we kept rolling through the night to Marathon, Florida.

By daybreak we were loading up the boat, Asheton’s 44’ Reliance, and were prepping to leave the next morning. Our weather window was closing and the crossing would have to be made within the next 24 hours. Otherwise, we would risk being caught in heavy thunderstorms and winds that could cause the waves of the Gulf Stream to stand up to potentially treacherous heights.

The night before our departure, our captain, Asheton, took the dinghy into shore to grab Pat and Kristen after their flight landed. The crew was all aboard. We each crawled into our designated berth and fell asleep knowing that, the next night, sleep would be scares out at sea.

girls who sail

 

We had a beautiful sail. With a few currents and some wind working in our favor, we managed to average 7knts through the night. By sunrise the following morning, the haze of Cuba stretched across the horizon.  

tips for sailing

 

Asheton hailed the Cuban Coast Guard as we rigged lines to tie off to the Customs dock. After a quick boat search by a tiny energetic cocker spaniel puppy, they deemed us worth of entry and let us into Cuba.

how to visit cuba

 

Cuba, the land and its people, are more incredible than we imagined. For young travelers, like ourselves, Cuba is an affordable country to gallivant through. Though the food is all relatively similar from restaurant to restaurant, you can eat well for only a few dollars a day. Taxies can be inexpensive, as well, if you bargain for the right one and lodging is just the same. Cuba has a network of “bed and breakfast” styled homes called casa particulars. They average around $25 dollars a night and are safe and easy to find. If you find a good one, your host might even cook you up a tasty home style Cuban meal. During our time in Cuba, the home cooked meals were by far the most delicious.

guide to cuba
things to see in cuba
Cars in Cuba
Cuban Taxie
Cuban Cars
Casa Particular Cuba
Places to stay in cuba

 

Getting to know the locals is my advice for traveling anywhere, but especially if visiting Cuba. And, I’m not just saying this for the sake of good food. The people in Cuba will captured your heart. They are kind, intelligent and resourceful. Through the friendships we formed, we learned what to do and see in Cuba and we heard their side of the story.

 

locals of cuba

 

In the mountains of Vinales, we rode horses up a dirt path to a coffee farm. One of the workers spoke better English than any of us could speak Spanish. So, we got to know him as we walked around the small farm. Like many others before him, our new friend was intrigued to learn we had come from America. His reaction, though, stood out to me. He said to us, “There have never been hard feelings for Americans. It’s only politics. We, the people, are happy you are here.” This sweet coffee farmer had spoken words that reflected the many open arms we would receive during our time Cuba. This heartfelt human moment reminded us that our greatest power is the ability to spread peace and give love.

Cuban Coffee

The culture of Cuba


 

Cuba has been described as a culture frozen in time. But, what we experienced is much more complex. Yes, Cuba has our old 50’s classic American cars kept in pristine condition. But people walk around with IPhones, drive new cars imported from other countries, and partake in other 21st century antics. At the same time, you can drive down a highway surrounded by 50’s model cars as a horse and buggy crosses the street. Cuba is more of a time-warped land than a country frozen in time.

Classic Car Cuba
Old Cars in Cuba
Havanna
Cuban Art
American in Cuba
History of Cuba

 

The land; rich in culture, history and beauty; will continuously surprise you.

 


The Best Way to Experience Cuba.


Cuba is a relatively large country.  You could travel around for a month and still have more to see. If you are planning a trip with limited days (ours was 10) my advice would be to avoid booking the same lodging. There are several particularly beautiful parts of Cuba that are both unique and spread rather far apart. Having to return each day to a home base hotel could eat up a lot of your time. Some of the best regions of cube include the culturally extravagant city of Havana, the incredible mountains of Vinales, the many different tropical beaches, the gorgeous streets of Trinidad, and the coffee region of the Sierra Maestra Mountains; just to list a few.

Research and decide which regions interest you the most. Then, plan to stay a few days in each spot.

Beaches in Cuba
Cuban Vacation
Cruisers in Cuba
getting around cuba

 

Havana, Cuba

 

From the Hemingway Marina, the six of us jumped in a taxi and headed to the famous Havana, the city Jimmy Buffet speaks so highly about. Pulling off to the side, our driver let us out downtown. We handed him a few Cucs (one form of Cuban currency) and turned to greet the vibrant city streets. A mixture of tourists, street vendors and neighborhood locals crowded the cobblestone streets. For the most part, we could safely roam any part of Cuba. Of course, it helped being a group of six with three men.  

streets of Havana

 

Every inch of Havana was photogenic.  You can’t help but look upward as you walk through rows of crumbling Spanish architecture, bright with Caribbean colors.  Clothes were strung out on rooftops to blow in the breeze as we stood, staring and soaking in the culture. 

bohemian city
church in cuba
cuban culture
culture of cuba
best view in havana
to do in havana
to do in cuba
poverty in cuba
lighthouse in cuba

 

Vinales, Cuba

 

We had been told that you shouldn’t leave Cuba without a visit to Vinales. So we searched around for the cheapest taxi that would carry all six of us and our luggage up the mountain. Asheton found one to fit the bill and the next morning, at 9:30, we loaded up and headed for the hills.  An hour later, a gnarly pothole had us on the side of the road fixing a dangling exhaust. A few hammock straps were sacrificed and ever so carefully we made it to Vinales.

car trouble in cuba

We were welcomed by breath taking mountains. The formations came as a complete surprise. Rather then rolling together, they jetted up out of the earth with a combination of jagged rock faces and lush greenery.

best of cuba

Our next weather window, which would allow for a comfortable sail home, was still several days away. So, with a few days to kill, we decided to explore all that Vinales had to offer. A taxi driver took us into the National Forest and dropped us off to go caving. He waited at the bottom of the mountain for us to return, eager to show us all of Vinales. He drove us to a local organic farm that served dinner and joined us for dinner. At ten cucs a person, we had more food then we could eat. Paired with the most magnificent view.  I would say it’s worth going to Vinales if not only for this organic farm-sourced restaurant.

caves in cuba
tourist attractions in cuba
cuban food
cuban restaurants
animals of cuba
adventure gear
pineapple farm
organic food cuba

Xiomara, our Vinales host, hooked us up with some horses. We rode through the mountains and toured around several local farms. The people were wonderful and the views spectacular. Vinales, along with the rest of Cuba, captured our hearts.  

cuba economy
gorgeous cuba
cuba
patagonia in cuba
she explores
adventure reflections

 

Sadly, with in a few years, the culture of Cuba could be drastically different. Locals already talk of Walmarts, Publix and other American corporations who have purchased land in Cuba. Now is the time to go to Cuba and experience its unique culture before anything changes. 


 Here are my quick tips for touring Cuba:


 

1.     Don’t drink the Water – No worries; most locals will tell you this and almost every restaurant serves bottled water.

2.     Research and book Casa particulars in several destinations rather then one hotel in a central location.

3.     Bring your own TP wherever you go. It’s a special treat if a public restroom provides toilet paper. So, don’t be caught off guard.

4.     Get to know the locals! – Your experience won’t be the same without them.

5.     Ask to see a menu before sitting down at a restaurant – you can get the same food for a drastically different price depending on where you wonder.

6.     Bring your camera to Havana – you’ll regret it if you don’t.

7.     Go Now!  


Much Love & Viva Cuba 

- G

 


J+G Sailing; Boot Key & Fish camp


Boot Key is a funny place. It’s a destination for many cruisers. We had heard stories of a packed anchorage with 250 mooring balls and 50 boats sitting around on a waiting list. Some fellow cruiser friends had described it to us as “an adult summer camp.” When they used the word adult I think they meant above the age 60 and most likely retired. Because, that indeed would be a good description of Boot Key Harbor. A day in Boot Key starts with the 9am cruiser net on vhf channel 68. Where, if you tuned in, you could hear who was new, who was leaving, who was selling something, some corny riddles, and a little touch of drama. Some rather good entertainment for your morning cup of joe. Post cruiser net, the harbor always has some sort of activity or group cookout going on. Though the adult summer camp community wasn’t exactly our scene, I can see how Boot Key earned its place as a cruiser's destination. 

Boot Key


etting to Boot Key was one of our longer days of travel. We took the outside and it was beautiful, but long and rather rolley.  Arriving at sunset, we couldn’t quite muster up the energy to search the crowded harbor not knowing if we’d find a spot to anchor. So, with a calm night we anchored on the ocean by the seven mile bridge.

Sailing Boot Key


he next morning, we headed into the harbor. Crowded, as we expected. We went up a little creek (sister creek) and anchored along with several other boats in the mangroves. The creek is rather narrow, yet still maintains a lot of boat traffic. So, to keep your boat from swinging into the channel, everyone ties off to the mangroves. Doing so was a bit of an art project (as Joel called it). But, with help from a neighbor, we pulled it off. We actually didn’t mind not having a mooring ball. When the wind was blowing enough to keep the horrid no-see ums away, Sisters Creek was great. It was a short dinghy ride to the beach and a little longer one to town. 

Cruisers in Boot Key
Boot Key Harbor
Best Beaches Florida Keys
Vacation in Florida Key



e spent most of our time at the little beach. On warm days, we brought our shampoo and showered off in the beaches outdoor showers (living on a sailboat really teaches you the luxury of real showers). Together we swam, read, did a little snorkeling  and relaxed. 

visit boot key
boot key inlet
diving gear
ocean's escape


few days in we met new friends, Nina and Asheton. We had noticed them fishing the day before. They were our age (younger then 50) and on a dinghy. A rare sighting in the cruiser world.  We got talking to Asheton thanks to one of our neighbors whos boat had pushed up into the mangroves and caught all of our attention. We were excited to meet like aged and like-minded sailors. They invited us over for dinner on their boat and we quickly became good friends. Nina and Asheton had been in Boot Key for a while and tipped us off on what was good. One of which was a Cuban restaurant where Joel and I later had some Cuban coffee and the best fish sandwich.
 

sailboat aground
cubano

We were in Boot Key long enough to get some snail mail sent to the post office. Our address these days is “General Delivery at such and such, FL.” I like it. Though it makes getting mail a bit of a struggle, there's a since of freedom that comes along with not having a mailing address.

We even checked out a beautiful boat for sale that was on the list of “must sees” we had made from hanging out with Asheton and Nina. I guess we are always in the market for a great deal and a new adventure. 
 

buyers guide to sailboats

We stayed in Boot Key for about a week. Then, as the first of the month rolled in, we rolled out to the Big Pine Key to meet Otis(my dad). He had been to Big Pine Key many a time to fish and camp. With winter really setting in back in Virginia, he couldn’t stand not being in the Keys and knowing we were here. So, we (rather easily) talked him into joining us for a week.

fishing florida keys


It couldn't have been a more perfect week for Otis to make his way on down to Big Pine Key Fishing Lodge (where he camps). The wind calmed down, the water cleared up and we had the best week of weather yet.
 
Our “fish camp” week started with a beautiful sail from Boot Key to Big Pine Key. 

colorful spinnaker
fishing while underway


here was no acknowledged anchorage within dinghy distance to my dad’s campground. But, with a week of calm winds we figured it’d be fine to make up our own. We pushed the envelope a little getting into a rather shallow anchorage (we would later get stuck trying to leave close to low tide). But, we were excited to throw the anchor down in crystal clear water and head over to fish camp to see my dad. 
 

how to live aboard
fisherman
Florida flag

We started the week off with some pizza at The No Name Pub. A classic Key’s restaurant; a cute local eatery with a hint of weird.   Thousands of dollar bills hang from every inch of the No Name Pub’s interior. Each signed by someone from here or there who has paid a visit to the restaurant. Tucked back in the residential community of Big Pine Key, the No Name Pub has become a must stop for not only Otis but almost every visitor. I’d have to say, if you find yourself on Big Pine Key, it’s indeed worth checking out.

The No Name Pub

  
Speaking of a hint of weird. It doesn’t take too much time in the Keys to realize everyone and everything is a little odd down here. And, it seems the further you go the stranger things get. I decide that the tamer the wildlife seems, the wilder the human’s life must be. Because, the wildlife here is indeed tame. The Key Deer walk up to you like dogs. Joel and my dad weren’t too thrilled about the key deer joining us for dinner. But, I loved it. Nina and Asheton ventured down to Big Pine Key one day and Nina and I spent most of our time hanging with the deer.   
 

Key deer
baby deer

We did take a break from our quality time with the key deer to do a little exploring while Nina and Asheton  were visiting. Together we all explored a few nature trails. We walked along the rocky shore out to the Island's point. There,  we checked out a Cuban boat that had allegedly washed ashore. There are several of these boats in the keys. Scrapped together with car engines, floating materials and any odds and ends they managed to acquire.  Knowing the ocean and specifically the moods of the Gulf Stream, it's a humbling experience to see what these people escaped on. Even more humbling to think of the life conditions that made such a voyage worth the risk.

secluded beach
explore the keyes
cuban makeshift boat


 The Cuba boat wasn't the only discovery. Nina found herself a lovely all-natural hat. Then, the boys caught a few fish and a little nurse shark. 

Fish camp Florida
catching a shark
shark fishing



The rest of our week was full of fishing. My dad is the definition of a Fisherman. He raised three girls (you know he’s happy to finally have son in laws). Yet, each one of us knows how to tie a fisherman’s knot, spin a spinner, jig a jig, cast a fly rod, catch a fish and even clean it. So, with him in town, you know we had an action packed week of fishing. 

Kayak fishing tips
fishing drum
kayaking Florida
fishing under bridge


ith such clear water, Joel and I did a lot of diving. We dove for lobster, we dove just for fun, and then later in the week we dove to get Otis’s fishing gear after he flipped his kayak (yicks! never a dull moment with Otis).
 

diving in florida
vacation florida keys
Dive flag use
best dinghy

Then, we ended the week right with a fish fry and a beautiful sunset. Big thanks to my dad for joining us on our adventure. We loved having you come down!
 

how to catch fish
best florida sunset

Until Next Time, 
Much Love
-G