Time, Tide and Salmonberries: Blessed Be the Regular

Like probably most people in the world right now, my sense of the calendar has gone all wonky. I’m frequently not sure what month it is, let alone the date. Day of the week? Forget it. 

Fortunately or unfortunately, I know all too well what year it is.

The arrival of fresh cherries and strawberries at a fruit stand took me by surprise. Wait–it’s Solstice already? Since then, I’ve been trying to pay more attention. Salmonberries have helped. 

Salmonberries  are a huge thing around western Washington. Whether battling them as ferociously scratchy pests around our yards or admiring their bright pink flowers in Spring, we probably spend more time thinking about them than we even realize. And then they make berries!

If looks could taste…

I used to make fun of salmonberries for being so un-delicious: The only reason anyone even thinks about eating you is because blackberries aren’t ripe yet.  

But (again, like a lot of folks) I’ve been walking even more than I usually do, and trying to pay even more attention to things besides the global pandemics of COVID and racism. So I’ve been nibbling salmonberries again, as part of my noticing–and guess what? Turns out if you wait to eat them till they’re so ripe they’re juuuuust about to fall off their thorny ol’ bushes, they’re actually pretty tasty.

So what else merits my noticing, and my thanks?

The tide. Twice a day. EVERY day. Talk about essential work!

I know this isn’t exactly a glam shot, Tide–but this is you your work attire.

And some of the humblest of flowers–look at these ones here, engaging in a socially-distanced Easter bouquet!

C’mon, guys, it’s June, not April. Shouldn’t you be decorating for wedding season?

That’s more like it.

What basic, REGULAR things are you feeling grateful for right now? Postal carriers? Baby birds? Marshmallows on display shelves? Let’s celebrate the regular where we can find it!

May…We Be Evergreen!

Around here–and probably around anywhere in the Northern hemisphere not covered with asphalt–May means wildflowers. Yes, like that childhood riddle, except that here May’s bringing more showers than April. My walks lately have been interrupted by…

Sea pinks

and

Larkspur (with Death Camas)

not to mention

Spotted Coralroot orchid, in its own ray of sunshine

Oh–and the salmonberries!

Not as delicious as you’d hope–but who cares?

But this month I also love to notice and give praise to a subtler kind of new growth…the kind that puts BOTH the “ever” and the “green” into “Evergreen State.” I’m talking about the fresh, new tips of our conifers. Now, pine trees make you suffer all sorts of pollen-clouds to get up close and personal with their newborn bits, but firs? Fir tips you can fondle.

Softer than you can imagine! (Also edible to more than just deer, though some might dispute the idea)

And hemlocks…well, their tips are just an adorable mini version of the firs.

Awwww…!

Not to forget our non-coniferous evergreens: the noble salal. You might focus on their honey-sweet, bell-shaped blossoms…but I’m looking at the bright, baby-soft new leaves.

Aren’t they sweet? Stop looking at the flowers.

Of course no forest looks truly LOTR-fantastical without ferns of some kind, or all kinds. The type we have around here don’t start as fiddleheads (thereby saving themselves from human over-consumption), but they do stand out–if not UP–as cutely floppy, gawky adolescents:

“Let’s be fronds.”

The most amazing new bit of green May growth to my mind, though, is one of the least visible: the mosses. On today’s walk, I was noticing one of my favorites turning slightly more golden, thinking, “Yeah, almost midsummer, time for these beauties to be dying back,” when I looked closer, and–whoa. Check this out:

Rated “M” for Mature

Fruiting thimgamagigs! Right out there for all to see, shameless! Gorgeous! Fresh! New! Woohoo!

Gimme an “E”! “V”! another “E”! “R”! Gimme a “G”! another “R”…!

OK, you get it. MAY we be green. MAY we be evergreen. MAY we be happy. 

 

Road Trip X, Days 29-32, Kentucky to Missouri to Kansas to Colorado to Wyoming: Forget Scenery, Just Get Us Home, Please

We’ve never had a road trip where all we do is drive. But we’ve never had a road trip during a global pandemic either.

The day we left North Carolina, making Big Left Turn #2 to head for our island home on the opposite end of the continent, all things basketball died. We were shocked, but still spent that first night enjoying the scenic beauty of eastern Kentucky’s Carter Caves State Park…

Apparently they have caves there. But the natural bridges were enough for me!

Even cooler from below.

The limestone just weeps little waterfalls everywhere.

A magnificent beech…one of the trees I do miss, out west.

Next day, we started driving, listening to CNN, and to the sound of most of our road-trip joy being sucked away. We determined not to visit the friend we’d hoped to visit in Louisville. Ditto Milwaukee, the Twin Cities, Denver, and Yakima. We’ve probably already visited too many dear ones.

Just get us home. This isn’t fun any more. Too much is out of our control.

Which explains why I have NO pictures from Missouri, even though I did enjoy a pleasant walk-jog through a park in Columbia. Kansas? This is my only pic, shot out the car window to let Son Two know that it was still winter where we were.

What you see is what you get.

I wish I could say something encouraging about western Kansas, but…it’s an awful lot like eastern Colorado, which, guess what? I also took no pictures of as we zoomed through. Home, home, home. We exercised in the motel’s fitness room and passed up all of Denver’s bike paths. (Sour grapes: it was awfully windy anyway, though much warmer than we’d feared.)

I did celebrate the last of the Traveling Hollywood Oranges, though:

Like a month of travelin’ sunshine! Thanks, Cousin Susi!

In Wyoming, I snapped this shot just to let my mom know that Wyoming seemed to be about done with winter. But we didn’t stop.

Balmy!

And then the rocks got cool enough to want their pictures taken. From the car.

I’d hike in there. Just not now.

And now, here we are in Rock Springs, Wyoming, just 30 miles or so from Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area…and we’re not going. It’s out of our way, and we’re focused on mileage. Home, home, home.

Instead, I’ll leave you with a picture of one of my trademark Noodlebag Dinners*,

Even better than it looks.

*Noodlebag Dinner = pasta pre-cooked & put in bag w/ olive oil & salt, to which all kinds of yummy things can be added before microwaving in a motel room for a cheapo gourmet meal

How are all of y’all coping in this new reality? Any of you fellow travelers (literal ones) changing your traveling routines? Singing that alphabet song as you wash your hands after every truck-stop transaction? Avoiding dropping by friends? Stay healthy out there, everyone…

Road Trip X, Days 21-24, Tallahassee to (sorta-)Savannah: Swamped by Unexpected Beauty 

I thought of titling this post “Sea to Shining Sea,” after touching the Atlantic the other day. I even thought about posing the Traveling Avocados, Oranges and Grapefruit on the beach, to celebrate their epic journey. But only a few oranges are left; all the rest of our gifted produce is eaten. And anyway, having already waded in Gulf of Mexico, it’d be more like sea to shining sea to other shining sea, right?

Still: Hello, North Atlantic!

But today’s theme waved me down as soon as we holed up in Tallahassee. That town isn’t a long drive from our previous night in Alabama; we had no business there, knew no one, didn’t check out Florida State or even ride our bikes along the terrific trail we’ve ridden before. All we were doing was making sure we didn’t die in a tornado waiting out some nasty weather. Doing laundry. And (one of us) making some headway on the novel.

And even with such meager expectations, Tallahassee offered us a good reminder of northern Florida’s lovely topography (NOT flat!) and relatively undeveloped landscape (hardly any billboards, even on I-10). And a wonderful bakery, and a  gorgeous sunset (not pictured) and this giant live oak in the motel parking lot.

Ooh, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Next day, the storm having blown through without tornadoes (thank you!) we headed to a brand-new destination: Little Talbot Island State Park, just north of Jacksonville.

In the middle of a swamp. Yes.

There we discovered not only a long, pristine beach–for people who love long, pristine beaches…

Augh! must…count…all the different…varieties! Make it stop!

…but also a boneyard of silvery drift-stumps…

Just as satiny as it looks!

…and the COOLEST trail through the dunes…

With tortoise holes! (Not pictured–sadly: tortoises)

…into a mixed forest of gigantic pines, palms, and live oaks, the latter dripping with ferns and Spanish moss.

Ooooh…

Question: WHY are epiphytes so ridiculously compelling? Is it a) the way they humanize the trees, calling to mind beards and long tresses? b) the way they soften the harsher, sharper lines of the forest? Or c) the fact that I was clearly a swamp rat in a previous life?

Ahhh…

The campground was one of the nicest ever, in terms of space and light and vegetation. Its only downside: the road was too close, so traffic noise was very present until late at night.

Would just one nighttime armadillo be too much to ask?

And we didn’t get any armadillos. But hey.

“That’s too much Spanish Moss!” said no one ever.

One more glorious bike ride in the refreshingly cool morning, on a LONG bike trail.

Way to go, northern Florida!

Along the way we took a sideline to the beach, to visit with some crumbly-clay tidepools…

Different! No wee fishies, unfortunately.

…and one more gorgeous silver drift-log installation.

World’s coolest jungle gym.

Heading north, we passed this irresistible sign:

How can I have never run into this pun before?!

And then on to Savannah (sorta). Our friends live on the outskirts, which should really be called the outswamps. Question: Is that why they named the town after a sea-of-grass ecosystem? Anyone know?

Since our purpose was reuniting with old friends, we skipped the downtown Savannah tour. Instead, we were gifted with one over-the-top, unexpected cool thing after another. We got to watch the Carolina-Duke game with true fans, drowning our sorrows in bacon-wrapped scallops and homemade pizza (not pictured). We got to cuddle with the sweetest, silkiest Labrador.

Forrest loved the Mate.

We thought our friends’ backyard view was just fine–hey, nice swamp ya got here!–but then next the morning, THIS happened.

Okay then.

Finally, our friends served us a lil’ ol’ Georgia breakfast: eggs, cheese grits, sausage, bacon, fresh fruit salad, and fresh sweet rolls. Still full from the night before, I made a superwoman effort and ate everything.

Woman’s got to do what a woman’s got to do.

So…feeling a little swamped right now. Thinking that when we find beauty and goodness in unexpected places, it means even more. And feeling a bit grateful that Spanish Moss doesn’t grow in mountainous areas. Because if it did? I think my head would explode.

More, more!

 

Road Trip X, Days 18-20: Gettin’ Cushy in Louisiana & Alabama

No one should EVER feel sorry for me & the Mate when we complain about weather on our road trips. That’s what we get for road-tripping in February and March! So I’m not looking for pity when I whine about not being able to camp due to snow or lightning or dust storms or ice or…blah blah blah. It’s just fun to whine.

Which is why these last couple of days have really called our bluff. Monday we left Galveston on a cute (and completely free!) ferry

Our ferry’s double, passing the other way.

and drove the length the peninsula on the bay’s other side,

Anyone else think that ocean is awfully close to the road? No? Just me?

back to the interstate and into Louisiana. We hit a perfectly nice campground in the Louisiana bayous–Lake Fausse Pt. State Park–on a perfectly nice (if a little humid) day…and opted out.

Why? Because the ranger said it probably would rain overnight. And while there’s nothing wrong with rain outside a tent when you’re in it, stuffing a wet tent into a small Subaru with all the rest of your belongings is the opposite of fun. Still, we might have gone for it if we hadn’t learned about the cabins.

We could stay in there?!

Each one perched OVER the bayou, with perfect screened porches.

We’re staying in here!

We couldn’t wait to eat dinner out on the porch. But first it was time to go for a walk around the swamp.

Ahhhh…

Have I ever mentioned that I love swamps? Just show me a cypress and I go all weak in the knees. (sorry)

I have no idea what this is. Red iris? Anyone?

The forest offered plenty of variety all on its own…

Don’t mind if I do.

…so when I did see a gator, it was simply a bonus. And the baby gator in front of the mama? Bonus bonus.

See the baby? So stinkin’ CUTE!!!!

That evening, the Traveling Avocados teamed up with some Gulf shrimp and that amazing screened porch for what’s probably going to earn our Best Meal of the Trip Award.

With a rocking bench!

Next day we drove across Mississippi–just about 100 miles at its base–and into Alabama. We had a date with another state park (thanks to this excellent book on state parks), way down past Mobile in Alabama’s teensy lil’ slice of the big ol’ Gulf Coast pie. Appropriately enough, it’s called Gulf State Park. And it’s big. And lovely. With 28 miles of bike trails, are you kidding? Made for us!

Only problem? This park boasts over 400 RV sites, and eleven tent sites. The Mate and I took one look at the teensy tent sites crammed in between RVs and quickly backed away. All the way away, to a Motel 6. Then we drove the few miles back into the park and took a big, happy chomp of those delicious bike trails.

Come for the biking. Stay for the biking…but only if you have an RV!

No lie, this bike path instantly vaulted into our top 5 anywhere.

Only a half-mile further, a new forest.

The terrain keeps changing, oaks to pines to dunes to swamp to…wait–is that an…?

Why yes indeedy.

A nice heavy deluge that night made us feel even better about not camping. Even worse weather ahead of us in Florida encouraged us to slowwww down, so we spent another $70 to stay on at the Motel 6. Next morning, we tried some of those trails on foot.

Any gators down there?

I LOVE whizzing along on a bike, but you do miss stuff. Like these funny puffball-shaped clumps of reindeer lichen.

Cue the lichen puns.

Why this shape? Because, I realized, they’re not growing on the sand; there’s nothing for them to live off. They’re growing on individual sticks and leaves on the sand. Clever things!

We didn’t see tortoises, but we did see their holes.

Anybody home? Love the wild rosemary landscaping!

The only thing I wished for in this park was more dirt trails; they’re nearly all paved. But I understand the reasons for that. And it was clear, from the number of benches dedicated to folks passed away or to groups like “Michigan Snowbirds,” how beloved this park is to folks from colder places–mostly the midwest, it seemed. Maybe that explains the tongue-in-cheek speed limit signs:

NOT 27. That would be crazy.

The weather’s supposed to be so wacky tomorrow that I have no idea where we’ll be tomorrow night. NOT in a tent. But given the terrible destruction up in Nashville this week, I can only give thanks for the safety and security of being able to whine about a little rain.

And speaking of giving thanks: one more gator? Yes please!

We learned the locals named this one “Lefty.”

Road Trip X, Days 11-13: The Chiricahuas. Period. 

What strange impulse leads us humans to share our special secrets?

Notice that this post has no cute subtitle beyond a geographic label. That’s because the Chiricahua Mountains are the special secret of the Mate and me and a very, VERY few other people—I can only think of four. That’s the main reason they’re special to us. And yet, here I am talking about them. Can’t help myself.

Waaayyyy down there at the bottom right. (image courtesy freeworldmaps)

The west side of the mountains is the better known half, because that’s the National Monument side. We’ve camped there a couple of times, including last year. It has very cool rocks.

See what I mean? But that was last year (snow & all).

This year we opted for the east side, which means driving into New Mexico, then heading south and west and ending up back in Arizona–just barely–in the miniature town of Portal. No National Monument here…”just” national forest, and wilderness.

Oh, is that all?

Oh, and lest you think those pink cliffs are just the sun…

Nope. Actually pink.

This side of the Chiricahuas is known best by birders. As I’ve probably mentioned before, these mountains (rising nearly 10,000 feet) act as both an oasis for higher-elevation plant & animal species, AND wildlife corridor for everything that walks, flies and slithers. You can see birds here that otherwise you’d have to go to Mexico to see. They have coatis (not seen this trip). And javelinas.

THIS. Hairy piggie!

(Gotta admit, this particular piggie disconcerted us a bit. In the past, we’ve only spotted them bolting and scuttling, but this one sashayed through our yard to rub its butt against a prickly pear, then came right up to our cabin like it wanted to order a sandwich. Guess some idiot’s been feeding them.)

In 2004, our little family of four spent a few months living in Santa Fe, and that’s when a friend first showed us this marvelous canyon. It was mid-March then, and the place was buzzing with birders (also hummingbirds of a dozen species). We were a little starved for moisture and what we northwesterners call “real trees” (i.e., something other than pinons and cottonwoods). Being so high, the Chiricahuas collect snow, and fill their canyons with creeks. And creeks mean one of my favorite trees of all.

Not all the sycamores are this mighty. But they’re all this lovely.

March was great. April might be even prettier, who knows? But now, in February? We and the locals have the place to ourselves!

And we even got a few flowers out of the deal.

The Traveling Avos & Oranges enjoyed the view as well.

Here, piggie, piggie! (Just kidding.)

If you ever make the trip down to the furthest corner of Arizona, do let me know. We Chiricahua Enthusiasts are a small but passionate tribe.

(Note: you CAN drive from one side of the mountains to the other, but not in February. And not in any kind of car you value, unless you drive a Jeep.)

Yes please.

So pick a side and go. Go to hike, ride a bike, camp, watch birds, or just sit there in awe with your feet in a sycamore-shaded stream and your eyes on glory.

Wing’s World Goes Mobile: Let’s Get Ready to Rrrrrrrrroad Trip!

It’s that time of year. In our little corner of the Northwest, the ditches are running full enough to kayak in, sun is a tantalizing memory, and anything with wings that migrates is starting to do so, in reverse. Including these Wings. Except, being bipedal and 4-wheeled, we go EAST. This year: Road Trip X.

“What route are you guys taking this year?” ask friends who know about our annual pilgrimage to North Carolina.

My standard answer: “Head to L.A. and turn left. After that–the weather’s in charge.”

Sometimes the weather’s in charge even on the very outskirts of LA.

I-5, Tejon Pass

And of course we don’t head STRAIGHT there. Along the way, we stop to visit dear friends, family members, and trees.

Prairie Creek Redwoods, CA

And even in the sunny desert, we’re reminded that THE WEATHER IS IN CHARGE.

Saguaro National Park, Tucson

We spend time with rocks. Grey ones…

Chiricahua National Monument

…red ones…

Arches National Park, UT

…and brown ones.

Natural Bridges State Park, KY.

We spend time with mountains, western…

Guadalupe Mts. National Park, TX

…and eastern.

Appalachians, NC.

Sometimes we imbibe a little “culture.”

Mardi Gras in Dallas

…and history.

Vicksburg, MS

ALWAYS, with our Tar Heel Tribe, we celebrate our team (God knows they need our love this year!) with lots and lots of food.

Pie Day, 3.14

We spend quality time with my parents…

Dad’s bike’s electric now. But he’s 89 1/2, so, yeah.

…and the woods where I grew up.

Trout lily

If weather allows, we camp–and celebrate the Sisterhood of the Traveling Avocado (from our LA cousins’ tree).

Chiricahuas

If weather doesn’t, we fall in love with cute park cabins.

Land Between the Lakes, KY

As always, we seek the Perfect Bike Path.

Katy Trail, MO.

As always–did I mention this? The weather’s in charge.

I-70, CO

As always, we are thrilled to see this sign after 6+ weeks on the road:

Says it all!

And as always, we are even more thrilled to be HOME at the end of March. (Flaming sunset’s just the cherry on top.)

Home Sweet Lopez Island

So, friends–please wish us buen viaje, bon voyage, safe travels, and Go Tarheels! Be safe yourselves; stay warm & dry. See you on the road.

Red Rover just can’t wait to get on that ferry & hit the rowdy road.

Eyes White Open: Count Me In

If you’re at all political, or even if you just like bookstores, you’ve probably seen these titles on the front shelves:  Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility. Debby Irving’s Waking Up White. Nell Irvin Painter’s The History of White People. And this is just the books on whiteness BY Whites. There are plenty of others by Black authors, but obviously the vibe is different. We’re clearly in a moment where folks who’ve always considered themselves “the good White people” (like me!) are suddenly feeling the need to study, well–ourselves. Our assumptions. Our Whiteness.

On the titles above, I’m two down and one to go and I’d love to talk about any of them with anyone. But since it’s easier for books to sell themselves than podcasts, I want to throw a little love to this podcast, from my hometown of Durham, NC: Scene On Radio’s series, Seeing White.

If you prefer to get your Whiteness-awareness-raising in smaller, more varied chunks, I’d suggest starting the series from the beginning, where host John Biewen (White) and his friend/mentor Chenjerai Kumanyika (Black) explain what it means to “turn the lens” onto a “race” that’s never really seen itself as such, even while determining the very meaning of the word. I’ve listened to a dozen, and they’ve all been DEEPLY thought-provoking.

But the last one I listened to, My White Friends, really made me want to share. Here’s the premise: photographer Myra Greene, who is Black, got a handful of her White friends to pose for pictures in ways that push the viewer to ask, “What is the Whiteness of this photo?”

Like this photo of a friend who’s a public high school teacher. With, yep–a Subaru. (photo by Myra Greene)

You can see more of Ms. Greene’s exhibition here. Her photos got me thinking, what is the Whiteness of some of my own? Let’s try a few.

Well, I’m obviously out in a mountainside meadow. Wilderness, or at least the illusion of wilderness, is important to me. Is that a White thing? And I have gear: knee braces, a water pump. Good boots. REI Nation! I know they’re trying to reach out, but still–REI’s a pretty White store, am I right?

OK, here, I’m performing in public–in flip-flops and a skirt sewed out of old T-shirts! I was raised to believe informality was cool, inviting even. It would never have occurred to me that some folks might find this disrespectful of the audience.

One more?

And here I am, back in the wilderness…this time very far from home. And though you can’t tell from the photo, it was taken on a Monday in March–not a holiday, mind you, just a regular workday, when I got to be on vacation. In my REI gear. What’s the Whiteness of that, you ask? Layers upon layers of privilege, which I’m only now starting to acknowledge.

If you’re up for it, and you’re White, choose a photo of your own to describe. If you look, can you see your own Whiteness?

The Time Has Come…Really? Or, Does Anyone Else Have This Hanging-On-To-Old-Stuff-Way-Too-Long Thing?

“I want to be thoroughly used up when I die,” wrote George Bernard Shaw. I think he was talking about my hiking boots.

Don’t laugh. They’re COMFY.

Seriously–stop laughing. The only thing wrong with them, for years, was ripped fabric up top–nothing a little duct tape couldn’t fix.

OK, a lot of duct tape. I mean, the duct tape on TOP did just fine, but the part that wrapped around the soles…well, you get the idea. But I was willing to sacrifice a few more feet of the silver stuff just to keep my boots doing what they were made for (walkin’).

But recently, they developed rips in the lining, which turned the simple act of pulling them on into a bit of a struggle. It was finally time to say goodbye–right into the trash. I know even our island’s Take It Or Leave It would revolt at taking these guys.

Then the very same week, while camping, I noticed deep cracks in the soles of my beloved Teva hiking sandals…whose Velcro I had long ago repaired. Suddenly their life span seemed to wither before my eyes. (It’s possible that the arrival of the REI Outlet Sale catalogue had a teensy bit to do with that.)

Might’ve used a bit more Velcro than needed, but man–it did the trick for years!

No, I am NOT trying duct tape on this.

And then, would you believe it? It happened again today: my ancient gear just gave up the ghost. I wore my special just-for-biking tights around town after riding into work, and noticed that I was shedding tiny bits of Spandex, or whatever the stretchy stuff’s made of. I knew the tights were the worse for wear–hell, they were a gift, I never would’ve paid for something so specialized–but turns out they were really COMFY and warm, which is why I wore them to literal shreds.

Et tu, biking tights?

So is this just me? It’s certainly not my Mate–he loves getting new gear for himself. “If it doesn’t work well, why have it?” he says. And I agree in THEORY…but in reality? I hate to let my old friends go.

So, two questions:

  1. Anyone else have this issue with stuff? 
  2. Where did I put that REI catalogue?

Road Trip IX, Days 38-40, Denver to Moab: Mecca’s Crowded–Who Knew?

By now you’re probably tired of hearing me talk about sandstone. Too bad.  So far on Road Trip IX, I haven’t had the pleasure of talking about RED sandstone.

This stuff!

After zipping across western Kansas and eastern Colorado (please somebody tell me something interesting about western Kansas or eastern Colorado!), we spent the night with a friend in Denver. Full disclosure: this stop was in full Carolina Tarheel Fan Mode, not our usual Outdoor Adventurers In Search Of the Ultimate Bike Path or Hike Mode. Our friend is from Chapel Hill. Together we ate pizza and happily whooped the Tarheels into the Round of 32. Mission Accomplished.

Next day we braved the passes of I-70 through the Rockies, blessing the weather gods and Colorado DOT for keeping the roads clear, even though the roadsides looked like this:

11,000+ feet, 20 degrees…and 55 mph!

Safely on the other side, temperatures back in the 40s, we took a recreational stop at Grand Junction’s not-so-hidden treasure, Colorado National Monument. We’ve camped there before, and know that its red sandstone towers and hollows and who-knows-what-to-call-its are the equal of anything outside of Arches National Park. We didn’t have the time to go deep into the park, but a single swift hike through the very corner yielded this:

“The Devil’s Kitchen”

Inside The Devil’s Kitchen. The Devil has some cool appliances!

After that, we said goodbye and thanks to Colorado, and zipped on down to Mecca Moab, Utah.

Why do I call it Mecca? Because Moab is the holy city for people of The Mate’s and my religion, The Church of the Great, Dirty, Sweaty Outdoors. In Moab, every other car looks like ours.

Red Rover says, “Finally! I’m one of the cool kids here!”

Wheels, wheels, wheels! Granted, some are attached to monster engines on scary-looking jeeps and ATVs. But most are some form of bike. And even those folks who aren’t there to ride around on something are still there to play hard and get dirty.

These families are climbing this super-steep red dune to race and slide back down. That could be the definition of cheap thrills.

While patiently waiting for the Heels to play their Round 2 game, we delighted ourselves with bike rides and hikes in some of the most perfect, astounding, God-given terrain available to mankind. Now when I say bike rides, I do NOT mean this:

I’m sure mountain biking is fun. I’m equally sure that I would kill myself if I tried to do it.

I mean this–this amazing trail that runs all the way from the rim of the valley,

Yes!!!! 7% grade…but the scenery takes your mind off the grind.

through town, and along the Colorado for who knows how many more miles (I had to turn around before finding out).

Sun started disappearing. Scenery stuck around.

As for hiking, well…the entrance to Arches National Park was two miles from the campground we were staying in. And if you don’t know Arches…

…please allow me to introduce you! This is the famous Landscape Arch.

And this is Balanced Rock. Not sure where the name comes from.

Pine Tree Arch is one of my favorites, mostly because it’s off the main trail. We actually had it to ourselves!

My hope was, if the weather was decent, we could spend a night camping after having safely seen our beloved team into the Sweet 16. (Pause for wild cheering from Tarheel Nation.) But stupidly, I’d been so deeply enjoying the fact of all these other fans of the Great Red Outdoors, I’d missed the obvious: those fellow red-rockers were our competitors for camping spaces. And unlike us, they’d been smart enough to make reservations. Months in advance, probably. The Arches campground was, of course, FULL FULL FULL.

You–keep walkin’.

So much for my “Peaceful, Easy Feeling” image of “I wanna sleep with you in the desert tonight/With a million stars all around.” Yes, there are first-come, first-served BLM campgrounds scattered about, but you can camp in those for up to two weeks. What were we supposed to do, hang around all day waiting on the off chance of being there when someone pulled up their tent stakes? C’mon! We have trails to hike, basketball games to watch!

No room at the inn for these ol’ lovebirds.

So…Irony. The very thing that draws us to Moab–the joyous celebration of its dirty, sweaty beauty–prevents us from engaging in that highest of ceremonies, spontaneous camping. Yeah, I suppose we could’ve acted like our younger selves and just pulled off the road somewhere to pitch our tent. But in the Church of the Great, Dirty, Sweaty Outdoors, I guess these days we’re those Establishment types who claim front pews. Next time, if I possibly can…I’m making reservations!

One last morning hike before we have to go… 😦