Monday, September 30, 2019

GAP / C&O Adventure Day 8: Fort Fredrick to Shepherdstown

We woke up to no rain, had a quick breakfast and packed up our gear...the rain started almost immediately.

We had put on our rain jackets, but it didn't seem like it was that bad, so did not put on rain pants. That was a big mistake.

Lockhouse and dam

Two hours later, we found ourselves in Williamsport, Maryland — very wet and pretty cold. So we grabbed some snacks from a nearby Sheetz convenience store and made our way to the local park where are we took over one of the picnic shelters. We pulled a Flash Dance and changed from our wet biking clothes into our dry street clothes, hung out all of our wet items, made ourselves some hot drinks, and waited for the rain to stop.

In the meantime we realized that we were situated right behind the public library, so took advantage of their Wi-Fi and restrooms. You can always count on public libraries to meet your basic needs. They are wonderful places.

Fun in Williamsport
We eventually came upon the part of the towpath known as the "Big Slackwater." The path has been reconstructed and there was a bit of smooth pavement riding for a bit as well as some wonderful views along the river.

By this time, we had decided that we would not be camping that night, as all of the little campgrounds were pretty wet. This meant that we had to ride quite a bit farther than we had planned. But as we rode up to the hotel in Shepherdstown, it all made it worthwhile! Hot showers, a load of laundry and camp dinner in our room. Ahhhhh.

Lodging: Clarion

Total mileage for the day: 44.6 miles

Tip: The Clarion was about a mile and a half off the trail, but fairly easy to get to, and had a washer/dryer.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

GAP / C&O Adventure: Day 7: Devil's Alley to Ft Frederick

There are so many good things about today's ride. Let's start with the fact that the paved Western Maryland rail trail runs parallel to the C&O for 25 miles and there are geocaches along the way! Plus, we can now say that we have ridden the Wester Marilyn Rail Trail!

We stopped in Hancock at the bicycle shop pick up a spare tube and ice cream for T. We were really impressed with the prices, I am sure there are bicycle shops that take advantage. After making a run to the Save-A-Lot for more Gatorade and some fresh fruit, we headed for
Ft Frederick.

We arrived around 1:30 and found interpreters in costume at the old fort. The place is absolutely stunning, both from the perspective of the natural surroundings as well as the historical story of those being told. We spent a couple hours looking around talking with the interpreters, and just taking interview before making our way to the visitor center to get our campground pass for the evening. Fort Frederick was definitely a highlight. Note that the costumed interpreters are generally there on the weekends; you might call ahead to see what's happening when you are passing through.

Fort Fredrick barracks.
Road from the trail up to the fort.
The best part of the night though, was after we had pitched our tent and eaten dinner. Up near the fort, was an outdoor shower that was available for people to rinse off after being in the Big Pool (canal pond). The signs clearly indicated one must wear a bathing suit while rinsing off. We were thrilled to be there in our "bathing suits" washing our hair and scrubbing off all of the salt, sweat, grease, dirt, bugs, etc from our bodies. Glorious!

Rinse off stations. 
Camping permit hangtag for my bike.

Campground: Ft Fredrick State Park; $22.25

Wildlife: lots of deer!

Total mileage for the day: 36.6

Tip: The outdoor shower...and the water is warm!

Saturday, September 28, 2019

GAP / C&O Adventure: Day 6: Cumberland to Devil's Alley Hiker Biker Camp (MP 144)

Woke up this morning to some great tasting coffee and homemade bread at our Airbnb. T went out to get our bikes from the garage and found that I had a flat tire. So we changed the tire, got some groceries, had to detour around a train that was stopped on the tracks in order to get back to the trail. By the time we finally got going it was after 11:00am.

It was a hot ride today, somewhere in the high 80s. Fortunately the trees provided a nice amount of shade as we rode the trail. Cyclists on the GAP had warned us about how bumpy the trail would be. However, having ridden the Weiser River trail in Idaho, we thought the C&O was pretty decent.

The canal and locks are very interesting. We stopped to look at various structures along the way. At one point after saying hello to a couple of other cyclists, T noticed that she had a flat tire. No worries, I had just learned how to change a flat that very morning! In about 5 minutes we were ready to go.

Turtle watching.
The Paw Paw Tunnel was a little disconcerting. In this tunnel, the canal was still intact and you were on the path up above the water. Personally, I couldn't get out of there fast enough.

Paw Paw Tunnel
Bring your light!

We got to where we thought we would camp, only to find a couple was already there and the water pump was not working. They didn't seem too friendly so we continued on to the Devil's Alley at Milepost 144. There was already somebody camping there, but there was room for us.

It was almost six o'clock and it was VERY hot and muggy. We cleaned up in the Potomac River and filtered some drinking water (the water pump was treated with iodine, and that was all you could smell, so we opted for river water), and made our dinner.

It was a long hot night.

View from our campsite the next morning.
Campground: Devil's Alley Hiker/Biker Camp at Milepost 144 (free)

Total mileage for the day: 44.5

Terrain / Trail Conditions:
lightly graveled with some roots and rocks.

Tip: A lot of the camps along the trail were pretty deep in the trees. But this camp was a little more open and had a nice view of the river.

Friday, September 27, 2019

GAP / C&O Adventure: Day 5: Meyersdale to Cumberland

We went through the Big Savage tunnel today, it even had lights! 

The ride up to the Eastern Continental divide was a gradual slope. Once we arrived we celebrated with all of the rest of the bicyclist who were there, took lots of photos, and enjoyed the murals. From there it was all downhill to Cumberland!

Eastern Continental Divide
One of the most interesting historic sites along the way was when we got to cross the Mason Dixon line at the Pennsylvania/Maryland border.

Mason-Dixon. Take the time to read the historical info.
Where am I?
We stopped in Frostburg, and took the short bicycle trail up to get lunch with the ladies from Kentucky. The switchback trail was a pretty easy ride and had some amazing artwork to look at along the way. Our little lunch stand was across from the train that people take between Cumberland and Frostburg for sightseeing or to get their bicycle up to the top of the hill so they can ride back down to Cumberland.

We rolled into Cumberland around 4:00, checked out sites downtown, said goodbye to our new friends, and headed for our Airbnb (our hosts were great and their place was immaculate). Only downside is that it was up such a steep hill that we actually had to walk our bikes part of the way. Enjoyed an amazing shower, did some laundry, and then walked into town for dinner at The Manhattan Social.

All and all, it was a great day.

Total mileage for the day: 34.4

Tip: I'm sure a lot of people look at the elevation maps and are a little concerned about writing their bicycle to the eastern continental divide. The segment from Meyersdale to the divide was a nice ride and less steep than what we had already ridden.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

GAP / C&O Adventure: Day 4: Confluence to Meyersdale

It was a beautiful fall day and one of the things that was a little bit different was that we went through a bit of farmland. We also went over the Salisbury Viaduct which is 1,908' long and 101' high and goes right over the Mason-Dixon highway. This was probably the single most amazing sight on the GAP.

Farm with a friendly farmer.
Salisbury Viaduct
We pulled into the campground around 3:00 or 3:30 and called the phone number that was listed. A really nice lady named Susie is in charge of collecting fees. She has thought of everything! There are boxes of games, a bucket of rags to clean your bike, clothesline with clothespins, and even a can opener! And, would you believe, Wi-Fi? Yes, this place has at all.

One of the things that we have come to realize along the trail is that the most popular store we have found is the Dollar General. No fresh fruits or vegetables, but generally there is milk, Gatorade, lots of junk food, and a variety of canned vegetables. We grabbed a can of tomato, corn and okra to toss in with our freeze dried chicken and chickpea pasta and made our way back to camp.

We were fortunate to be able to squeeze our small tent up on the stage next to a giant tent that had four other people staying in it. We also met two really nice ladies from Kentucky who were riding the trail. We exchanged stories and the next day ended up leapfrogging with them.

Can you see our tiny tent in the far left corner?
Get there early if you want the stage!
New friends from Kentucky
Campground: Maple Festival Park, $15

Total mileage for the day: 33.9

Tip: Get there a little early, so that you can camp up on the stage. There are showers and flush toilets, but they are a number of steps away from the camping area. If you do camp on the grass, you might want to look up and identify where the street lights are located.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

GAP / C&O Adventure: Day 3: Connellsville to Confluence

Had a pretty good night in the Adirondack hut in Connellsville, but there certainly were a number of trains to be heard! After we left camp, we went up to the Connellsville Canteen which also serves as a museum. There was a fantastic diorama of the railroad yards and the area. At one point there were 48 engines that rotated on a circular platform so that the trans could go in and out efficiently. thank goodness that there are no longer that many trains in the area!

Connellsville — The Adirondack huts are off to the right of the arch.
Easy riding.
A gorgeous September day.
Today's big stop was Ohiopyle State Park visitor center. Of course as we were looking at the scenery, I hit a tiny little concrete sidewalk at one mile per hour and down I went. Fortunately I had my helmet very sore knee and some short lived dizziness, blurred vision, and hearing loss...I was concerned that the trip was over. Some fluids, rest, and Advil, and we finished looking around town while our laundry was drying.

We camped in Confluence at the Yough Dam Outflow Campground. After an extremely hot day, the showers were amazing, and the sound of the water being released from the dam made for a pleasant evening. The train was pretty far away, so we really didn't hear that at all.

Our campsite looking over to the biker camping area.
Campground views
We also met a guy named Tim from Pittsburgh who is riding the trail. He was super nice and the next morning we ended up having breakfast with him at Mitch's Fuel and Food. The ladies in the cafe were awesome — they even had gluten free bread!

Total mileage for the day: 31.2 miles

Historic Sites: Connellsville Canteen, which served hundreds of thousands of service men during World War II.

Terrain / Trail Conditions: Excellent.

Campground: Yough Dam Outflow Campground. There is a bicycle section in the campground, which runs $8 per person. We ended up getting a regular tent site because we did not want to camp on the grass (trying to minimize condensation).

Tip: Definitely stay at the Outflow Campground. The price is right in the amenities are excellent.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

GAP / C&O Adventure: Day 2: Dravo to Connellsville

Perfect weather and a perfect ride! Met Ron, an older gentleman who had camped in the next shelter over...I suspect lives on the trail during the summer. He gave us the heads up about places to stay and so we headed for the trailside Adirondack huts in Collinsville, formally known as "Stewart's Crossing Campground & Adirondack Shelters."

This must be a regional thing — live bait in a vending machine.
The trail was exceptionally smooth and we had a wonderful 35.5 mile ride. One of the highlights was the little patio area with a couple of refrigerators right along the trail! There was an assortment of cold drinks, fruit, ice cream, and even a few boiled eggs. So T grabbed a hard boiled egg for 25 cents and off we went.

Beautiful fall day with great trail conditions.
Hard boiled eggs for 25 cents!
Just past the egg stop, we noticed what appeared to be artwork in the old coal mine ruins along the trail and a few hundred feet beyond we found Sager Mosaics. We stopped in the studio and spoke with the artist. If you call ahead, you can schedule a tour of the Ruins Project.

Other than old coal mine ruins and a few houses along the way, most of what we saw was the Youghiogheny River. We rode upriver and will continue to do so until we reach the Eastern Continental Divide somewhere near Frostburg, Maryland.

Total mileage for the day: 35.6 miles

Campground: Stewart's Crossing Campground & Adirondack Shelters (free)

Tip: The Adirondacks are right behind Martin's grocery store! They have a fantastic chicken salad sandwich on a croissant and really nice bathrooms.

Monday, September 23, 2019

GAP / C&O Adventure: Day 1: Point Park to Dravo

We got onto the trail around 9:45am and were surprised by the number of people on the trail on a Monday morning. I'd estimate that we saw at least 30-40 people.

Point Park in Downtown Pittsburgh — Ready to Roll!

One of the first things we saw was the updated mileage sign near the Hot Metal Bridge, which said 350miles to Washington, D.C.

Points of interest today included the Dravo Cemetery/camping area and the cute little visitor center in Boston. Believe it or not, we are the first to register at the Boston visitor center from Oregon this year!

Boston visitor center with the friendly host, Ron(?)
With a start time much earlier than expected and we were a little concerned that we would arrive at Dravo (our first overnight destination) much too early to stop. Pulling in around 2pm, we weighed our options: stay here at this amazing campsite, set up camp in one of the two Adirondack huts (the other one was occupied), clean up and have an early dinner OR ride another ten miles or so, risk not having a shelter, and get stuck riding in the rain. We opted to stay. And glad we did, as around 5:30, there was a torrential downpour...and we were dry and happy!

Dravo Adirondack; notice the chairs around the fire pit.
Bike rack as wood transport.
Total mileage for the day: 28 miles.

Terrain / Trail Conditions: A good 17 miles out of Pittsburgh was paved...although I have to say that I prefer the crushed limestone...potholes and cracked pavement in Pittsburgh was something else!

Campground: Dravo (free)

Wildlife: Squirrels, a fawn, ground hog, cardinals.

Tip: Stay at Dravo. According to the guy camped with us (who rides up and down the trail all the time), this is the best campground the entire way.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

GAP / C&O Adventure: Fun in Pittsburgh

What a great couple of days we've had in Pittsburgh!

I think we were both surprised at how bike friendly this city is. We cycled everywhere we needed to go with the exception of taking a bus from the airport down to our hotel right near the Point.

Some of the highlights include:

  • Taking the incline up Mount Washington only to find Music on the Mount!
  • Riding down on the Duquesne Incline — be sure to stop in the museum...for 25 cents, you get to see the inner workings of incline.
  • Riding over multiple bridges.
  • Touring the Fort Pitt Museum — a good orientation to the areas you will be riding through, especially if you are also riding the C&O.
  • A very brief stop at the Warhol Museum on "free Sunday" — think 6 floors in 10 minutes!
  • Condado Tacos — loved the menu and super Celiac friendly!
  • Randyland — his message of positivity is not to be missed.
Beautiful night time view from the Incline.
Love the bike friendly bridges!
Tip: We loved, loved, loved the location of the Wyndham Hotel. BUT, the cleanliness factor was something else. If you do stay, check your room first and if it's not clean, have them give you a new room. Sigh.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Water Filtration: GravityWorks 4.0L

When we bike or backpack, the last thing we want to do is to manually filter our water. We also believe that it is important that, as a group, we are not doubling up on various items.

About three years ago, we had done quite a bit of research on water filtration systems. We liked the gravity fed system (less work, more relaxation time) and decided to go with the Platypus GravityWorks 4.0L Water Filter System for use on our backpacking trip.

On that first trip, our system supported five of us and on some days, we were filtering between 20-40 liters of water. We have filtered all types of water: stream, lake, pond, and even brackish, all with the same result. Occasionally, things slow down a bit, but if we just follow the directions and back flow it, everything works fine.

We have used this system on each subsequent trip, following the manufacturer's purification instructions when we return home to ensure that it was clean and ready for storage.

Five stars all the way on this device!
Image from the Manufacturer

X-Lounger Portable Air Pump

My oh my. The X-Lounger Portable Air Pump is our newest luxury item to go on our adventures.

Remember, we are ultra lightweight backpackers...for example, our packs, with water weighed in at 21.5 lbs for a 7-day trip. So, when we opt for a "luxury item," it had better be worth its weight.

Manufacturer Claims

  • Weighs 4.7 ounces
  • Inflates your air mattress more than 20 times on a single charge.

What We Found

  • This little pump weighs in at 5.5 ounces, and that's without the attachments. 
  • We took the pump on a 60 mile backpacking trip as a luxury item...we pumped up 4 air mattresses 6 times each (24 uses) and there was no change in output over time.
Five stars all the way on this device!

Image from Amazon

Saturday, July 27, 2019

2019 NUT Day 7: Mott Segment

Today was the last day of our adventure. We had a leisurely breakfast and took our time packing up camp. We made our way back to the Mott trailhead to do the last segment of the trail.

As we got started, we were pretty happy to see the "easy" sign. It had been a lot of up and down hiking over the past six days, and this was a nice reprieve. We saw eight other people out on the trail and a few fly fishermen in the river. Once we hit about three miles, we didn't see anyone else on the trail.

We stopped at about three and a half miles or so for lunch on a large rock outcropping that overlooked the river and then headed back along the trail.

All in all, it had been a good trip.

Total mileage for the day: 5.8 miles

Wildlife: Nothing on the trail.

Trail conditions: Hot; mainly shady areas along the river. 

Terrain:  Flat; rocky.

Scenery: River views from river or just above river level.

Surprises: We saw people on the trail!

2019 NUT Preparations: What We Did Right & Wrong

Having discovered the trail purely by accident, and seeing how nicely the map was all laid out for us, we thought, "wow, this will be a walk in the woods." That would be mistake #1.

On previous trips we have a routine:
1. Read a LOT about about other people's experiences.
2. Search for and download KML files from other hikers.
3. Save KML files and maps for use in Gaia GPS app.
4. Call and talk to knowledgeable forest service personnel.
5. Order a paper map of the trail.
6. Cross reference all information.
7. Follow up with forest service before leaving.

On this trip, we had done some research, but weren't terribly worried about anything because we were going to be on a nice trail outlined in the "brochure" from the USFS.

1. There was not much first hand information about hiking this trail. I did find this article. The article was about the hike taken by a group of people who had similar skills to us and their stay along Medicine Creek. We made a special note about camping out along Medicine Creek as they had, but what we found after getting there, were lots and lots of downed trees and no perceivable place to camp. More on that in the Deer Leap post.

2. No backpackers had uploaded files to the typical trail sites. I didn't even think about trail running sites. That would have been helpful...especially for the Dread and Terror section because the mileage in the "brochure" was not especially accurate.

3. Like I said, I hadn't found any KML files...

4. Therese called and spoke to several people during the month before the trip at the USFS. The best information was from the folks at the Glide Ranger Station. The fellow there had actually hiked the trail and could speak to her questions.

During a previous call, she had requested a copy of the trail map (the "brochure" as we referred to it), which someone hesitantly mailed to her ("it's online...can't you look at it there?"). The folks at the other ranger stations, listed on the "brochure," were not specifically helpful, as they had no personal knowledge of the trail.

Basically the basis for our entire trip were these two resources: the North Umpqua Trail website and the associated brochure (which is much easier to read on paper).

5. Well, we didn't order a paper map. After all, we had the "brochure."

6. Not much to cross reference...

7. One of the other USFS folks that Therese spoke to, had mentioned that there were two sections closed due to slides. This was pretty important information to have and we did follow up the day before we left so that we had the most current information.

In hindsight, I wish that we would have:
  • Asked specifically about camping options along the trail rather than relying on the "brochure" which made several sites appear accessible to hikers, but in reality they were not; and
  • Brought along a USFS NUT map with notations regarding potential camping locations and potable water information.

2019 NUT: Backpacking the North Umpqua Trail

Last winter, we ran across one of the trailheads of the North Umpqua Trail (NUT), complete with a map of the entire trail. Our eyes about popped out of our heads when we saw that we had an easily accessible 80 mile trail within a couple of hours of home. We looked at each other and knew at that moment that we would be backpacking the NUT during the summer of 2019.

The following posts outline our 7 days on the trail in late July 2019, including where we stayed, our mileage, and observations along the way. Fortunately for us, I think we outnumbered the mosquitoes and we rarely saw any wildlife, other than a few small snakes and several dead birds. We also saw variety of wildflowers over the course of the trail.

We started at the Kelsay Valley trailhead and ended at the Wright trailhead (the Tioga segment was closed, due to slides and an unsafe trail). Total ground covered: exactly 60 miles.

The posts are broken up so that they cover the segments outlined in the trail "brochure," although our camps were generally mid-segment.

Happy trails!

NUT Preparations: What We Did Right & Wrong


Day 1: Lemolo Segment - best waterfalls

Day 3: Hot Springs Segment - shortest trek

Day 5: Jessie Wright & Marsters Segments - most populated (Wright)

Day 6: Calf & Panther Segments - best forest scenery (Panther)

Friday, July 26, 2019

2019 NUT Day 6: Calf & Panther Segments

Realizing that dispersed camping really wasn't an option on this trail, and knowing that it was Friday night, we decided to stay put and day hike the next couple of segments.

We left for our hike around 8:40am, but by then, it was already pretty hot on the trail. The Calf segment was part of the 2002 Apple Fire, leaving the trail exposed and rocky. Grateful to get to the Panther segment, it was very green and probably one of my favorite parts of the trail in terms of forest scenery.

Total mileage for the day: 9.6 miles (Calf: 4.3; Panther: 5.3)

Campground: Stayed another night at Horseshoe Bend Campground with has flush toilets and potable water. Site #17, adjacent to the Otter Island trail, providing easy river access.

Wildlife: Nothing on the trail.

Trail conditions: Hot and dry. 

Terrain: Calf: burned and exposed; very rocky. The Panther segment was not impacted by the fire.

Scenery: The Calf segment had the best river views of the entire trail. The Panther segment had some of the best forest scenery of the entire trail.

Surprises: Shocked to find potable water at the Mott trailhead.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

2019 NUT Day 5: Jessie Wright & Marsters Segments

After a great night at the power plant, we started off hiking the Jessie Wright segment, which was listed as 4.1 miles, but which we clocked at 5.2.

Along the way, we met the first people we'd see on the trail...the Motley Crew. They were a bunch of retired USFS fellows who were out clearing the trails with chainsaws, picks, shovels and a pair of loppers. These guys are why we had such a great hike! Literally, in 60 miles of hiking, we climbed over maybe a dozen trees. There were dozens more that had been freshly cleared from the trail.

By the time we got to the Marsters segment, the sun was high and hot. This segment was the most exposed due to fire and I spent a lot of time looking up at the burned trees watching for potential falls as we made our way west.

We were glad to find our car as we had left it at the Calf Creek trailhead, piled in our gear and headed to find a camp spot at Horseshoe Bend camp ground.

Total mileage for the day: 10 miles (Jessie Wright: 5.2; Marsters: 3.8)

Campground: Horseshoe Bend Campground with has flush toilets and potable water. Stayed in site #17, adjacent to the Otter Island trail, providing easy river access.

Wildlife: Nothing on the trail.

Trail conditions: Hot and dry.

Terrain: Burned and exposed; very rocky.

Scenery: Forest and river views.

Surprises: Arrived at camp early Thursday afternoon to find just one riverside campsite left. Happy to have good access to the river for cleaning up after a very hot hike.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

2019 NUT Day 4: Deer Leap Segment

This was my least favorite part of the hike. There is only one thing that I worry about when it comes to hiking and that is water. Today was hot, low 90s, and we knew that camping would either have to be near Medicine Creek (dispersed) or farther down at one of the developed campgrounds like Boulder Flat.

We hiked through the hot dry forest with lots of ups and downs. Saw a couple of small, dead birds of prey on the trail...the bones had been stripped clean except for the wings, which were completely in tact. Had lunch at a dusty spot where the trail crossed a dirt road.

As we neared Medicine Creek, which was our opportunity for dispersed camping as described in this article about the hike taken by a group of people who had similar skills to us, we kept our eyes peeled for a location to set up camp. All we found after getting there, were lots and lots of downed trees and no perceivable place to camp.

Drats. This meant another 3-4 miles to Boulder Creek. We trudged on.

About 45 minute later, I was about out of water. It was hot, and I always drink often. We should have stopped for more water at Medicine Creek, but didn't think we would need it. We had cell service, and it was a weekday, so we called the number on the back of the "brochure" to get some info about the trail.

Describing where we were, we asked about options for camping. The person on the end of the line consulted the "brochure."

I asked, "Have you ever hiked the trail yourself?"


"Is there anyone there who has and if so can I talk to them?" I was transferred and got voicemail.

Then we remembered that the number to the Glide office was a different office than the ones listed on the "brochure," so we decided to give them a call. Again, same experience. Someone reading off of the "brochure," except that this time, we were transferred to someone who had hiked the trail.

She asked, "Do you have a map?"

I replied sheepishly, "No, just the brochure." I knew it was a mistake.

We asked about camping options. She said we could jump onto the Soda Springs Creek trail, hike about a quarter mile to a little bench and camp there by Soda Springs Creek.

As far as the official Soda Creek Trailhead, she note that there was a picnic area, but no water. I knew from what I had read that there was no safe river access at Soda Springs, which was where the power plant was.

She also let us know that Boulder Flat and Eagle Rock were not accessible from the trail. Which meant that we would have a very long way to go if we didn't find a place. Darn that "brochure" sure looked like we would be able to access them...

So when we arrived at the turn off to Soda Springs Creek that she had mentioned, two of us hiked up .27 miles, found a nice little spot to filter water and a spot for one tent, just as she had described. We got cleaned up and felt fabulous.

The other two continued on to check out the picnic area where they found a "shower" as a result of the leaks in the giant water pipes, picnic tables and flat spots for three tents. It was nice to have cell service and we were summoned to the campsite for the night.

Total mileage for the day: 9.6 miles

Campground: Soda Springs trailhead. We were technically camped in a day use area. Picnic tables; porta pot, no river access; water was available from the giant water pipes. If you do go, you will be treated to the sound of the power plant and associated lights.

Wildlife: Nothing on the trail.

Trail conditions: Hot and dry. 

Terrain: Heavily forested and steep climbs. Be aware that you will be hiking far above the river, so carry plenty of water.

Scenery: Forest

Surprises: Contrary to what we had read in this article, there was no dispersed camping along Medicine Creek or anywhere else along this segment of the trail.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

2019 NUT Day 3: Hot Springs Segment

This was going to be a great day! We were camped at a terrific spot with our tent about 10 feet from the water, and we woke up to the sounds of the river. I drank my coffee and walked down a hundred feet or so to check out the river and hot springs. The actual hot springs that you see pictured in the "brochure" are about 100 feet or so above the river. But there are also some hot springs down at water level, which would be where I got an eyeful - full frontal of a very dreadlocked gentleman. The others in our group had their own visual experiences.

Two group decisions had been made in advance: the hot springs would not be on our itinerary, from everything that we had read, it was very dirty and highly overused, and this would be a short day on the trail so that we could rest our weary legs.

After a well-deserved leisurely morning, as we were in absolutely no hurry, we made a very late start on the trail. We arrived at the Hot Springs trailhead about .4 miles later where we used the bathroom and checked out the signs. There was a TON of graffiti and stickers all over the trail signs. This was the only section of the trail where we saw trash and evidence of poor human behavior.

Given that we were hiking downriver, we crossed the bridge and turned left, which turned out to be the wrong way...the USFS needs to have their trail signs up high enough so that they cannot be covered over with stickers! After a .5 mile round trip to nowhere, we came back to the bridge and proceeded to find our way, which included a very, very steep section of the trail.

After a relatively short hike, we arrived at the Tokatee Lake trailhead and adjacent campsite. We retrieved the car from the Tokatee Falls trailhead parking lot, which contained creature comforts such as camp chairs and cold beverages.

The campground was large and very full of extremely respectful campers. It was about the quietest campground we have ever been in...oh, and guess who was camped directly across from us? Yep, full frontal man.

Total mileage for the day: 5.0 miles

Campground: Tokatee Campground ($10). Large campground; no water. There was a LOT of dust; old ashes from the fire pits were dumped on the site (rather than removed) by maintenance folks.
Wildlife: Nothing on the trail.

Trail conditions: Good. 

Terrain: Heavily forested and steep climbs. 

Scenery: Forest

Surprises: Oops...we had left the car at the Tokatee Falls trailhead rather than the Tokatee Lake trailhad, requiring a 1.55 mile walk to retrieve the car. The good thing was that there was a lot of shade, so our beverages were still nice and cold.

Monday, July 22, 2019

2019 NUT Day 2: Dread and Terror Segment

After bidding our friend goodbye, the four of us set off on the trail around 9:30 in the morning. We knew that it would be a long day, as we had at least 13.5 miles to go. We headed down the road to the White Mule trailhead, where we found a concrete lined canal that would eventually divert water to the power plant. We also met two middle aged ladies (I did mention that we are all middle aged ladies, right?) who were preparing to hike one of the segments of the trail that day. We exchanged pleasantries and they gave us some insights on trail conditions.

From the White Mule trailhead, we stepped onto the trail and into the forest. There were many spectacular views during the first couple of miles. We hiked and hiked and about mid segment, we found a nice little spot to have our lunch...water access was a few steps away and there was a small fire pit. As my good friend Jean Ella taught me to do, I took off my shoes and socks (as I do at every lunch stop) and gave my feet a nice little soak in the river.

After lunch, we encountered three small slide areas. The first two were not bad, but the third one left us with a trail that was about as wide as a single foot and all sand. VERY UNSTABLE. The river was only about 10-15 feet straight down a sheer rock face, and there was a good sized stake ready to impale any hiker who had the misfortune of taking a tumble. We gingerly made our way across the slide area and shortly thereafter found our campsite. We were tired and very glad to be there.

The campsite was wonderful and very large with excellent water access. It was almost 7pm and we quickly set up camp, cleaned up and had dinner. We could see people down and across the river who were sitting in the hot springs.

The next morning, we continued on our hike and found several more large campsites. The biggest and brightest was directly across the river from the hotsprings with great logs "benches" for sitting in camp. Note that you cannot get to the hotsprings by crossing the river.

Total mileage for the day: 14.6 miles

Campground: Dispersed campsite approximately .4 miles upriver from the Hot Springs trailhead. There were 3-4 large, flat camp sites; we chose the one furthest upriver and the farthest away from the hot springs. Water access was easy for washing up and for filtering.

NOTE: There were only two other potential camping spots along this segment. We had lunch near the halfway point where you could fit two small tents. The other spot was about a mile or so up from where we finally camped. It was a large site, but pretty dark due to heavy foliage. Water access was easy in both cases.

Wildlife: Nothing on the trail.

Trail conditions: Three slide areas, making for pretty precarious crossing.

Terrain: Heavily forested and good climbs. 

Scenery: The first part of the trail provide spectacular waterfall views.

Surprises: Our mileage (14.6 miles) was longer than expected. The "brochure" indicated that the whole segment was 13 miles; from the inset, we estimated that and our campsite was about a mile east of the Hot Springs trailhead, so we figured it would be about 12 miles of Dread and Terror plus the 1.5 miles from Bunker Hill camp to White Mule trailhead. 

Sunday, July 21, 2019

2019 NUT Day 1: Lemolo Segment

This was going to be an adventure! We had set up this trip with two of our friends, and a third joined us for the first day/night of our trek. We were excited to get underway. From the "brochure" we estimated that we would be hiking about 5.5 miles, as campground appeared to be about 3/4 mile from the White Mule Trailhead.

So we set off in our four cars, dropping three of them off along the way (Calf Creek trailhead, Tokatee Falls trailhead, Bunker Hill campground), and made our way up to Kelsay Valley to begin our adventure. Fortunately, we hadn't planned to do a long hike the first day. The journey from our home to the trailhead is typically about three hours, but with all of the car shuffling, packing and repacking, eating lunch and so forth, it took us about five and a half hours to set foot on the trail.

The trailhead is right next to a horse camp and we met the nicest three ladies who were the horse camp hosts. They welcomed us and gave us a few tips on the area. The section of the trail that we were doing was the Lemolo Segment, described as 6.3 miles on the "brochure" and adjacent to the Bunker Hill campground. 

Since we had dropped off a car at Bunker Hill, we knew we would eventually have to be on a road to access the campground. Using the Gaia GPS app, we knew that we were close to the camp; as soon as we saw that the terrain eased up, we took the opportunity to bushwhack our way about 100 yards out to the road, which led us to camp. 

We were very happy to be camped at the lake as it gave us a good opportunity to get cleaned up and enjoy some great views.

Total mileage for the day: 6.4 miles

Campground: Bunker Hill ($10), there are only five sites, one porta pot, and no water. We stayed in site #2 and filtered water from the lake. There was a LOT of dust.

Wildlife: Nothing on the trail, but we did have six deer visit us in the middle of the night.

Trail conditions: Very dusty and horseworn.

Terrain: Fairly easy hiking. The beginning of it was more meadow like with views of the meandering river. The trail did take us up into the forest before we dropped down to camp.

Scenery: Grasses, wildflowers.

Surprises: Our mileage (6.4 miles) was longer than expected. The "brochure" indicated that the whole segment was 6.3 miles and our campsite was a mile and a half east of the White Mule trailhead.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Mickelson Rail Trail (MRT) Day 5: Custer State Park to Edgemont

Despite the weather concerns of the previous days, today was a beautiful day. We arose early knowing that we had a full day of riding and that Big Ker was on a tight timeline to get home to Bozeman.

Knowing that we had 5-8 miles of uphill from our campground, we were looking forward to to getting to the summit so that we could get get in some faster miles. I was so happy when I got to the "top" that I yelled to the others, "we made it" at which point Big Ker jumped off of her bike and started singing and dancing. The celebration was short-lived when we realized that around the next bend we would be pedaling uphill again. Sigh.

One of the highlights was of course Crazy Horse, which you could see from the trail. We stopped for a bit to take in the view and continued on our way.

We had contacted a locale Facebook group about the potential for lunchtime snacks and drinks in Pringle and were looking forward to checking out the town. What we found when we arrived was a giant pile of old bicycles. At first we thought maybe they hated bikers and this was a trash pile. But then we saw Bike Sculpture in Google Maps and the interpretive sign as we got closer.

After poking around a bit, we learned that the store was not open (nor was there a plan to open at all for the season). I did find a bar and poked my head in the door to find the barkeeper getting prepping for the day, but they were not open for business. Somehow I talked them into a soda, but that was as far as I got...probably for the best, as we noticed what seemed to be a giant barrel of rancid oil out back.

Old Mile Marker and Trestle
Off we went, a beautiful day on the trail. One of the prettiest areas was along the sheepherder ridge. Take your time here and enjoy the views.

Sheepherder Ridge
Mile Post 1
Rolling in to Edgemont around 3:30 or so, we were all in pretty good spirits....and then we realized that we would be going nowhere for a while because a train was on the tracks. Two other cyclists were also was pretty hot and we were all antsy to get moving. I looked at the map and could see that the only way around was a very, very long detour in the hot sun.

Really? Less than a mile from the end!
The two young guys decided they didn't want to wait and went for the detour. We waited and waited. Eventually the train moved on and we finished up our ride at the trailhead in the park. As we relaxed in the shade, the two cyclists finally arrived, hot and tired. The detour was a good five miles. We were glad we had stayed back and waited for the train to pass through.

We made it!
We loaded up our cars and headed off in different directions. Another trip in the books.

Total mileage for the day: about 49 miles

Tips: Pringle really doesn't have reliably open services, so be sure that you have enough food/water for the day. As for the GMRT, the overall elevation is "downhill" when traveling from N to S, but there was much pedaling to be done on this trip. Be aware.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Mickelson Rail Trail (MRT) Day 4: Custer to Custer State Park

The kind people at Custer State Park had set us up with a cabin for Saturday night. It was a pretty short ride from Custer to the "Stockade" where we spent a bit of time looking around. We ended up getting to the campground early (no rain!) where we found another super cute cabin. The cleaning crew was just about done prepping for us, so we hung out a bit, dropped our stuff and then went touring around the park.

The ride around Stockade Lake was great. We headed up to Hwy 12, where there was very little traffic and continued on...we ended up going UPhill and eventually came to a summit sign. We decided to go for it and had a wonderful ride down, down, down, and down some more to a small lodge. No one wanted to think about the ride back up....certainly not myself! I was looking for someone with a rig big enough for all of our bikes, when I spied a couple of fishermen. So I went on over and asked if they might take us up to the top of the hill for a quick $20...of course! They were headed back to camp with their fish, so we rode over and met their families. Very shortly, we were all on board and headed up the very steep, steep, steep road. They ended up dropping us at the intersection of the lake loop road and Hwy 12; we tried to pay them, but they wouldn't take a dime. As we have found on all of our trips — people are kind and will always go out of their way to lend a hand.


We hopped on our bikes and started riding back...only to find ourselves in a very heavy hailstorm! A quick 10 minute ride and we were back to camp and some very awesome hot showers!

Campground: South Blockade Lake State Park

Total mileage for the day: about 11 miles