Mashley’s Adventures – Appalachian Country

Current Location: Smyrna, DE

The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.
~ Marcel Proust

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This week’s update is a little delayed (meaning it’s over 2 weeks late, oops!) so we have a few things to share with you. As of the last email we had just surprise visited our families in Kentucky (which was really fun!). We finished up our time there with a huge RV spring cleaning, both inside and out. I went through and reorganized many of our storage compartments and cabinets, goodwilled some items, and deep cleaned the window crevices to remove 46 national parks worth of sand and dirt that had accumulated. The NPS tells you to take nothing and leave only with memories, but we could have made a small mouse-sized beach complete with dunes with all the sand I found hiding in odd nooks and crannies. Matthew handled most of the outside, and it was no better. Having spent the last few months driving through desert sands, mountain sleet, and bug clouds, our front end looked like a morbid modern art painting. When we left Moab, the red dust blowing about had stuck to all the bug explosions on the front of our rig, creating a very interesting and colorful pattern of splatters. Very embarrassing (for me anyway). All this to say, we were really dirty and spent a lot of time cleaning. Now I can look at our home unashamedly (at least for a little while, until the bug swarms start again).

C-L-E-A-N!!!!

We left west Kentucky and moved east to Mammoth Cave National Park. Being Kentucky natives, we have visited the cave in the past, so for this visit we decided it would be fun to explore the above ground section of the park. There is a lot of very nice hiking and bicycling that we really enjoyed. The Mammoth Railway Bike Path ran right by our campground so we spent an excellent day enjoying some pedaling on it’s wooded, gravel path. Other than one heart pounding moment on the trail when Matthew and I almost ran over a snake it was a very pleasant ride. There were scattered thunderstorms during our visit, so we also played about a thousand rounds of UNO. This UNO marathon sparked an idea and Matthew suggested we start a Lifetime UNO Tournament (where we will keep a running score until one of us dies). Right now Matthew is winning, but I have at least 40 years to regain my lead, so the odds seem pretty good.

the River Styx Spring at Mammoth Cave

the Echo River Spring at Mammoth Cave

CCC stone cabin that housed chlorination plant

On the railroad bike & hike trail

From Mammoth Cave we made an overnight stop in Lexington, KY to visit some dear friends. We had a blast catching up with them and also got to indulge in our most favorite donut/coffee shop of all time, North Lime Coffee and Donuts. If you ever go through Lexington you should stop just to go there. Best. Donuts. Ever. We may have gone twice during our 16 hour stay in the area; there is no such thing as shame when it comes to North Lime.

visiting North Lime Lex

  • 46 National Parks (of 47 in the Contiguous US; Holy Cow we’re almost there!!)
  • 40 States (of the lower 48, woot-woot!)

On to West Virginia we headed and happily stumbled upon New River Gorge National River. What a beautiful area amongst the rolling Appalachian Mountains! We spent a night here and motorcycled down in to the gorge the next day for a little refreshing scenery before heading on to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.

New River Gorge bridge in West VA – a world-record holder

The coolest bathroom

At Loft Mountain Campground in Shenandoah we snagged a superb campsite, right on the edge of the ridge with a beautiful view of the surrounding mountains and the Appalachian Trail about 10 steps down from our site, separated only by a thin line of trees. The sunsets from here were stunning, with the layers of blue and purple rolling mountains draped against the backdrop of a glowing pink sky and orange sun. Complete with a gentle breeze, the smell of moist air and spicy pine, and the chittering song of birds. This part of the country may not be as dramatic and awe-inspiring as the West, but it has a quiet, subtle beauty that is all it’s own.

sunset reflection

Sunset over the Blue Ridge Mountains in Shenandoah

Sunset over the Blue Ridge Mountains in Shenandoah

We spent 4 days in Shenandoah, enjoying some motorcycling along Skyline Drive, a day of hiking on the Appalachian Trail, and generally just absorbing the pretty views and sunsets. By happy chance, we even met a fellow nomad at a little coffee shop called The Blue Elk Coffeeshop in Elkton, VA while doing some online route research. He and his wife are wedding photographers, originally from the area, and currently traveling and living full-time in their truck camper. It was fun to sit and chat about our common interests in RVs, travel, and coffee (you can see some of their beautiful photos on instagram @thesearchers.co).

Hiking on the AT

lunch on the AT, overlooking Skyline Drive through the Blue Ridge Mountains

Now we’re on the road again, headed over to Maryland and Delaware for a bit of a U.S. history lesson.

Putzing along,

Ashley & Matthew

Mashley’s Adventures – Mountains and Hot Springs and a pause

Current Location: Benton, KY

You rest now. Rest for longer than you are used to resting. Make a stillness around you, a field of peace. Your best work, the best time of your life will grow out of this peace.
~ Peter Heller

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Looking at the weather last week, we realized that we had only a one day window to visit Rocky Mountain National Park without being snowed in. So we sped up to make it in time and enjoyed a day’s visit. Though it was sunny and dry down at the visitor center as we climbed up into the mountains snow covered the ground. We layered up and headed out onto the snow-covered trail to Nymph and Dream Lake. It was easy enough to follow existing tracks and we quickly arrived at Nymph Lake, enjoying the view of the mountains around us and the empty trail. We walked around the frozen lake and on to Dream Lake, though we turned around before reaching the end since it had snowed over-night and the trail was far less obvious and it had begun snowing, obscuring any view. Almost back at the parking lot we checked out what we could see of Bear Lake.

heading to Nymph Lake

rocky outcrop above Nymph Lake

next to Dream Lake

hiking beside Dream Lake

After lunch we hiked up to the nearly frozen Alberta Falls and then explored the open roads of the park, enjoying the views of the mountains and across the valleys.

elk in the valley

Since weather was moving in we headed on, trying to beat the worst of Denver’s evening traffic. Still not sure if we managed that, but we ended up working our way south, back through part of Kansas (still not our, um, favorite place) and then into and across Oklahoma, which we found much more visually interesting.

crossing Route 66 in Oklahoma

It seems that the storms were also migrating east, it was very windy. The worst gas mileage on the trip thus far was on the nice flat Kansas land. The wind, coming right at us, pushed us back, dropping our mileage. Ironically, we had the best for the prior tank, climbing through the mountains.

On we headed to Hot Springs, AR. In the park, we hiked up Peak Trail to the Mountain Tower and back down to explore Bathhouse Row. It’s a different type of park, set right inside the city. Thus, we didn’t have high expectations, but we ended up really enjoying it. Touring Fordyce Bathhouse was fascinating. It’s been restored and shows off the “state-of-the-art” technology and methods used in the 1920s. The Ozark Bathhouse holds the art collection, mostly creations of past Artists in Residence. Matthew really enjoyed seeing the work that’s been created from the program – and was encouraged to see that “I could do that!”

hot spring water

showing off on the Promenade

Ashley found her dream shower – 17 nozzles!

lifesized – not something Matthew feels like he could do

fresh hot spring water

  • 44 National Parks (of 47 in the Contiguous US)
  • 38 States
  • 6.3 mpg, the worst yet!

And since then we’ve been taking a break – it feels like we’ve constantly been on the go since leaving North Carolina in February. So we’re ready for a break. After visiting Hot Springs we moved on a bit more and surprised both our families by appearing in their driveways. What fun it was to get to catch them off-guard and to spend a few days visiting. We’re currently parked and sitting still, doing a deep-clean of the RV (inside and out), catching up on some maintenance, and generally enjoying a bit of a break while soaking up time with loved ones.

In a few more days we’ll continue on, beginning the final leg of our trip, the loop up through the north east. Until then, we’re enjoying a bit of recuperation.

Catching our breath,

Matthew & Ashley

Mashley’s Adventures – Canyons and Contemplations

Painted Wall in Black Canyon

Current Location: Monument, CO

True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence on the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing.
~ Seneca

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Even though it’s only been a few days since our last update, we’ve still managed to cover some ground – changing states and visiting another National Park! Over the weekend we rode into the northern portion of Canyonlands called Island in the Sky for another visit and then on Sunday we packed up and headed out.

We headed east, returning to Colorado in order to visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison. It’s a relatively new park, only having been instated in 1999, though it’s been a National Momument since the mid 1900s. Even though there isn’t snow on the ground and the roads are all open, it’s still a bit early in the season to visit. On the one hand, that means that we’ve been avoiding crowds and it’s been peacefully quiet, but that’s because it’s been chilly during our visit. We hopped on the motorcycle for a trip down into the canyon on the East Portal Road to ride alongside the Gunnison River. It was quite a steep ride down, Ashley kept sliding forward on her seat! Being inside the canyon is a unique experience. It’s beautiful, but also intimidating. Like being inside a slot canyon that has teeth!

At the bottom of Black Canyon, next to the Gunnison River

The Gunnison River

After checking out the visitor center and watching the park movie about the early exploration of the canyon (including the use of inflatable mattresses to raft the river!) we continued to the end of the road to check out the overlooks. Unfortunately, the weather was threatening rain/snow so we didn’t stay out for long and retreated to the RV to warm back up. While the weather wasn’t as bad as predicted, there were some snow patches still sticking in the morning, though they melted quite quickly.

  • 42 National Parks (of 47 in the Contiguous US)
  • 16% grade on the road
  • 36 States

Pictures fail to capture the colors, depth, and general sensation of the canyon.

Looking down into Black Canyon

These last few months everyone’s been asking about our upcoming plans, both for the next leg of our quest and the”what’s next” after we finish. As for the next leg of the quest, we have only a handful of states and National Parks left to visit and the current plan is to finish visiting them all by the end of July. After exploring what we can of Rocky Mountain National Park here in Colorado, we can head back east through Oklahoma and Arkansas (Hot Springs NP) then to Mammoth Cave before working our way up through New England to Maine and back down to Savannah, GA in July for a family get-together. Three weeks later we have a 25-day permit to hike the John Muir Trail in California.

We’ve considered spending more time here in the west, exploring more deeply and finding a job to add more to the gas fund, but with the fixed family meet-up in July and the JMT in August, we’d be pushing our completion date into next year to avoid winter in New England. While we don’t want to rush to finish, or feel like we’re simply checking places off a list, we are eager to begin the next stage of our adventure. We’ve currently visited more parks than states, which means that we have a lot of driving ahead of us, more miles than exploration. That makes our final leg fairly straightforward to complete and gives us the option to count the JMT as the grand finale (and with Mt. Whitney being both the finish line and the highest point in the lower 48, literally ending on a high point!)

And then we get to begin our next adventure in life. After much pondering, consideration, and discussion we’ve decided to… wait and see! We have lots of ideas about what sounds best but are currently delaying the decision. It’s hard not to think about it since we’ve had so many questions from famiy and friends, but part of our rationale is that we get lost in the debate and forget to enjoy our current location and adventure over concern about the future. By focusing too much on future plans we forget to enjoy and appreciated the present, and the amazing things we are experiencing at this very moment. It’s a hard balance that we are continually striving to make. We have put out some feelers looking into future options, so we’re not ignoring it completely, but at the moment we’re aiming to appreciate the amazing journey that we’re currently on.

Adventuring appreciatively,

Matthew & Ashley

Mashley’s Adventures – Dunes, Dwellings, Canyons, and Crescents

Current Location: Moab, UT

The sky overhead,
the earth below,
the mountains around.
I stand in the middle place –
at home.
~ Dr. Rina Swentzell

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What a lot of country we’ve seen since our last email! Or so it seems… After leaving Santa Fe we headed north into Colorado (now we’ve visited all of the western states!) We found a great spot of wild camping on BLM land outside of Great Sand Dunes National Park. Ashley had been to a section of the Park before, and wasn’t super excited about returning, so imagine her surprise that we loved it! Continue reading

Mashley’s Adventures – The Land of Enchantment

St. James Tea Room

Current Location: Albuquerque, NM

The first fall of snow is not only an event, it is a magical event. You go to bed in one kind of a world and wake up in another quite different, and if this is not enchantment then where is it to be found?
~ J. B. Priestley

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After getting blown about by the wind in our last email, we continued on west, over the mountains, for a day exploring White Sands National Monument near Alamogordo, NM. Ashley’s had, shall we say, a less-than-thrilling experience in sand dunes before so she wasn’t really excited to visit these. Surprisingly, we both had a really fun time and spent the day laughing, smiling, and feeling like kids. For fun we buried Ashley in the sand, ran and jumped down the dunes, hiked away from the crowd to have an area all to ourselves, and then waited to watch the sun set behind the dunes before heading out for the evening. White Sands is unlike any sand dunes we’ve been to previously in that the sand is made of gypsum, which really does make them white! It felt so pure and beautiful there, with this large swath of glistening white dunes surrounded by mountains. Being composed of gypsum also makes the dunes quite cool to the touch and many areas are hard-packed and easy to walk on.

Continue reading

Mashley’s Adventures – Deserts, Mountains, and Caves

The cacti were blooming

Current Location: Mayhill, NM

A traveler! I love this title. A traveler is to be reverenced as such. His profession is the best symbol of our life. Going from ________ to _______; is the history of every one of us.
~ Henry David Thoreau

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Wowzers, has it been a full week! Our last email was sent just before losing any kind of signal for a few days as we headed into Big Bend National Park. Though we didn’t get to back-country camp, we lucked into a great spot in the Rio Grande Village Campground – tucked right into the trees on the back of the campground with a beautiful view of Mexico’s Maderas Del Carmen. It was private with plenty of space, and was in the “generator free” zone so nice and quiet! We saw a javelina and a handful of roadrunners in the campground throughout our stay.

Continue reading

Mashley’s Adventures – Sandy And Salty On Dry Tortugas

Current Location: Gainesville, FL

Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.
~ Rachel Carson

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Our last email mentioned the parks we’ve been visiting and touched on our stay at Dry Tortugas. For those of you who aren’t familiar, Dry Tortugas is remote National Park, 68 miles west of Key West, FL. It consists of 7 Keys and their surrounding waters, but the park is centered around a military fort relic, Fort Jefferson, on Garden Key. For us to get there, we left the RV in a campground in the Everglades, loaded our motorcycle up with camping gear, rode along the Keys, and then caught a ferry boat out to the island. Then we set up camp and stayed for three nights! The only way to access this interesting place is by taking the ferry boat called Yankee Freedom – the only concessionaire the park uses, by seaplane (but it’s very expensive and you can’t camp due to weight restrictions), or by personal boat, of which we do not have.

  • 32 National Parks (of the 47 in the contiguous US)
  • 30 states (of 48)
  • 6 National Park Sites

There was no wifi, cell signal, running water, lights, or electricity, and only a handful of people when the ferry boat wasn’t docked each day. Fort Jefferson was incredibly interesting (although nothing really happened there historically speaking) and it was a testament to masonry of the past – built in the mid-1800s using 16 million bricks! – complete with a moat and a resident crocodile (Carlos). We snorkeled with the fishes, explored coral and plants growing outside the moat and in the sea, hiked the moat/sea wall dozens of times each day, tried to guess when Pelicans would dive into the water, chuckled watching the hundreds of hermit crabs that made a neighborhood behind our tent site, watched the sunrise and sunset from the beach and fort walls, and generally just enjoyed ourselves. Matthew spent a lot of time drawing and even tried his hand at a couple of watercolor paintings.

It was a fabulous mix of nature and (old) man-made structure – with new surprises to be discovered each day. We spent hours looking down into the water, just seeing what we could see. Barracudas, “pencil fish” (that’s what we named them because we’re not sure of their actual name), sargent majors, goliath groupers, lobsters, glow-in-the-dark jellyfish, and so many more sea creatures! The ~16 million bricks held a lot of interesting masonry work, rooms, and just a massive structure to explore out in the middle of the Gulf. It poured rain one night and drizzled until about 11am the next morning, so we spent the morning wandering around the massive fort, listening to rainwater seep through the ceilings, drip in puddles on the floor and enjoyed the gloomy solemnity.

But it was a relatively cushy “roughing it” scenario, we thought. We had to bring our own fresh water as none is available on the island (hence the name “Dry”) and couldn’t use our backpacking stove. So we had a creative menu of non-cook meals (chicken/avocado salad sandwiches, tacos, and backpacking pizza). However, the ferry boat arrived each day for ~4 hours and provided coffee/tea, cold drinking water, and even warm fresh-water rinse showers on the deck to clear off some of the salt. And when it left, there were only about 50 people on the island. 20 or less campers, 20 staff (who lived inside the fort), a couple of sea-plane tourists, and private boaters docked out in the harbor. With everyone cleared out, Carlos moved about more and we enjoyed the spectacular sunrises and sets.

All good things come to an end, and we were glad to be heading home to our RV. Thursday we headed out on the ferry and re-loaded the motorcycle for our trip back up the Keys home. Matthew’s grandmom’s urging to motorcycle the Keys was a sound one, as we thoroughly enjoyed the view of the sun setting behind us, tinging the sky and highlighting the mangrove clumps scattered about the water. Though we wondered how different it might have been when they motorcycled the Keys, less commercialized and built-up, we assume; that’s the problem with humans, we seem to destroy beautiful places in our greedy pursuits. A proper shower and night in our own bed was delightful!

Back in the Everglades, we joined a ranger-led canoe trip through the mangroves, which included paddling among gators and sharing a pond with a 14-foot crocodile. Then we headed out and stopped in at Big Cypress National Preserve. We only wished we were able to spend more time there so that we could explore further!

And this weekend we’ve been working our way north, catching up on chores and looking forward to a visit with some family.

Aimlessly Ambling,
Matthew & Ashley

P.S.- Ashley is selling some of her recently made soaps on Etsy (there’s only so much soap that one person needs). The link is as follows if anyone is interested in some: www.etsy.com/shop/AdventureSomeSoaps

Mashley’s Adventures – Exploring Water Parks

Current Location: The Everglades, FL

We’re a part of the natural world, not separate from it, and shame on you if you don’t take advantage of the opportunity.
~ Rudy Mancke

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What a whirl-wind of excitement we’ve been having! Though we might have been sitting still in North Carolina for a few months, the last couple of weeks have been quite full.

After leaving Fayetteville we headed south, returning to South Carolina for a visit to Congaree National Park. Though they don’t have any RV campsites, we were able to park at the visitor’s center and tent camp in the campground – giving us more time in the park – including a chance to see and hear owls (having a very heated debate!) while visiting the boardwalk! Day two found us hiking most of the trails offered in the park, out to the Congaree River bank for lunch. It was a great chance to stretch our legs on the trails once again!

It was a quick visit and then we hit the road again, working our way down the east coast to the Everglades where we set up home at Long Pine Key Campground. A few days of exploration let us discover lots of alligators and swarms of mosquitoes (only one of which got any piece of us). We participated in a “Bike Hike” ranger-guided program. We got to learm all about the park while pedaling along and being guided by a park volunteer, a fellow Kentuckian, actually! A day trip over to Biscayne National Park was capped off with Park After Dark – a live concert by a musician/historian, s’mores, telescopes, and a chance to explore the park after-hours. We lucked into the perfect time to visit for the activity, since we missed out on the boat that travels out to the keys.

Whew! We also prepped and packed up our motorcycle for a trip across the keys (as recommended by Matthew’s g-mom) and time on Dry Tortugas – which is where we’ve been this week. And with no internet, which is why this email is so delayed! But that’s a story for the next email on Monday…

One thing’s for sure, we’ve been having a blast in Congaree and the Parks of South Florida. They are definitely places worth exploring and preserving. All of them seem to be experiencing problems with resource depletion or budget constraints, so now more than ever is a perfect time to give them our support. With our days spent out on the trails and bicycles again, we are feeling an overwhelming love for the beautiful, simple, and natural places in our homeland 🙂

Floating along,
Matthew & Ashley