Oh Sedona… you are so… ethereal.
People go around town in old Volvos or Subarus with licence plates like
WLDSPRIT or SNCTUARY (I can't make this sh*t up), long time no see acquaintances get into awkwardly long full body hug at Whole Food, people in the fruit aisle look at you in the eyes and smile this compassion smile, and you know they are totally looking at your aura and judging you.
OK, I give the crystal/vortex crowd a hard time, but if I’m being honest, I totally feel the Sedonal vibe and it affects me (and I did feel the vortex when we went to check out the Kachina woman last spring… I wanted to laugh it off, but I felt incredibly jittery… I do feel that stuff, maybe I should just accept my hypersensitive side).
I feel a similar vulnerability here as the one I feel in the Yukon. A rawness. I feel stripped to my essence. I can't sleep. I want to run away as much as I want to stay and dig deeper. Every single time.
Sedona and Whitehorse are healing lands. I've heard it many times. Both places chew me and spit me out a shaken but more aware being.
Maybe at some point I’ll need to admit that I am one of them, but simply hiding in dirty bike clothes while shopping for sprouts and tahini instead of wearing hemp pants and a shaman pouch around my neck.
We were very excited to check out Crested Butte, but we knew it was rather late in the season… I had taken notes from Pedaladventure’s great post on that fun adventure town, but we ended up just exploring it on foot and Westfalia instead of riding the trails (already covered in snow).
We boondocked here a few nights, near Almont.
And woke up to this!
It was beautiful… but a bit cold for camping.
In Fruita, we rode some great trails in the Kokopelli trail system.
Then, we went to explore the Rabbit Valley area, still technically in Fruita, but closer to the Utah border.
And rode this amazing trail all around the rim you see down there (called Western Rim).
It’s now in my top 3 trails.
You can see the Colorado River down there.
We also rode a few trails on 18 road (still Fruita) for Mathilde’s birthday (we love PBR, Joe’s Ridge and Mojo).
As I’ve shared here before, one of our girls wants to go to school, have external academic and biking motivation, deadlines, a schedule, to be graded… She is an organizer that thrives on structure. She makes lists, plans and wants to know what’s coming. Her Christmas gifts are ready weeks in advance.... You get the idea...
I was hoping that providing as much structure as possible with a Google calendar and online classes with clear external deadlines, timed tests and grades would satisfy her… But she says she’s done with life on the road. She wants stability. A totally normal desire. We knew it would very likely come, but still hoped it might not. Of course, it is out of the question to leave her with friends or family and keep travelling. It's not an option for us. We travel to have more time together.
A few people have asked us why we would settle down if one child wants to settle down and another one wants to keep traveling. Why would we put more importance on the desire to settle down than on the one to keep on traveling? Is is because it is what is expected or more *normal*? Teenagers need a group of peers, need space from their parents, etc. Of course, their life on the road provides plenty of that with bike teams and races, tons of friends of all ages we meet along the road, lots of time alone either in the bus while the others are gone riding or time alone on rides, daily texting with friends, etc… but it’s not the same as being in one fixed location.
So, this is our work right now: finding out what is fear of not offering a normal teenagehood to our girls and what is sticking to our family values and the needs of the other members of the family?
Some might philosophically say that kids will be angry at their parents nonetheless, that they will turn out fine anyways, that we adapt to anything… and there is truth to that of course, but these are key years in one’s life and I don’t want to rob them of these important years. We have a huge decision on our hands...
Another very important aspect of this decision is my mental health. I’ve talked about it here before. I take meds all year round and use my light therapy glasses everyday of the fall and winter EVEN on the road during Arizona winters. I need to be active outside in the sun almost everyday to keep anxiety and depression at bay. The first winter I spent in the south in my entire life was a game changer: I realized I could feel good all year, have energy and drive to do things and not wake up with an elephant on my solar plexus and struggle to get out of bed. I was 35. And I never looked back. Since then, I spent one winter in Quebec and it was really hard. You’ll tell me winter is hard on you too, but when you suffer from SAD, it’s a different level of hard. I don’t ever want to go through this again. Especially not when my girls are going through a major transition like entering high school.
So yes, this is a big factor and a top priority. It might sound egocentric, but if I’m sick, nothing is going to work. So yes, we could veto another 3 years on the road and tell our daughter that we will make sure she has high quality online classes and that she can settle down in 3 years when she goes to University. But that doesn’t feel right to force her into that life against her will… but then, settling down means forcing her sister into a life she doesn’t want either… And that’s where we will have to make a hard decision.
It’s no secret that we are not excited about settling down (we don't even know WHERE we would settle down at this point, but it would very likely be in Canada). Settling down means finding a home base and furnishing it (we have a big dog and finding a furnished rental is very unlikely). We don’t own anything anymore. Settling down IS a big deal. This bus is the home in which I lived the longest in all my life. I don't want to sell it. Same for the Westy. But in the North, these are not winter vehicles and need to be put in storage when not in use… And problems show up… Which also means that we'll need a car (or two) and another job to pay for it all…
So, it’s not a matter of simply *trying it for a year*. If we settle down, it will likely be at least for the next 4 years (or until our youngest is done with high school)... because we won’t turn things around again. Especially since the daughter who wants to settle down wants to do it because she is done leaving friends behind.
A part of me wants to believe that we can turn this into an adventure… If we find an interesting school in a new location where we can live in the bus for part of the year (and maybe an AirBnB for the few colder winter months…), that maybe could work. But the other part of me is like: are you crazy? No friends or family around in such a tough transition. No way!
And I dream of Europe...
I’m sure many of you wonder why I share all this personal stuff here. There are a few reasons. First, this is how I think. By sharing ideas and listening to feedback. It helps me frame my ideas and make sense of it all. Also, and above all, I feel like there are not many families on the road with teenagers and I know I wanted to hear their stories when my girls were smaller, so that’s mainly why I share mine here. It’s the same reason why I started blogging 10 years ago: to connect with likeminded people who questioned the mainstream path. There is less and less of us on that path when the children turn into teenagers and I feel like we need to hear the voices of these parents, their worries, their reflexions and yes, their fears… Because as much as we exude confidence, when you make a choice that is outside the norm, the fears are always there in the back of your mind, nagging. But you turn away from them and look at your teenagers and see that so far, you have done a decent job and that maybe you know the path… against all odds.
I have so much to say about this different life we live together that I am writing a book right now. If you feel encline, let me know in the comments what you would like to find in that book.
The next day was much better as it began with a soak at the Hotel pool and spa where Isa and Martin were staying, then JF and I went for a ride in the beautiful trails and we came back to the village to watch the Downhill Canada Cup.
The Quebec Cup in Sherbrooke was exactly a month later and had 2 events. There was a crazy heat wave hitting the south-East of the province and the girls raced in very high and humid temperatures. With a very good prep that included a strict hydration + electrolyte schedule more than 24 hours before the race, they all did great and did not suffer too much from the heat.
Our summer is beating to the drum of mountain bike races. The girls could talk about mountain biking for hours, throwin in names of techniques and teammates I know nothing about, and rolling their eyes when I ask for explanations. Remember when your toddler was into dinosaurs or planes and was driving you bonkers chatting your ear off about everything he knew about it? Well, picture that, times 3, and throw in a good dose of teenager sassiness. I’m kind of glad I have taken a job at the state liquor store (SAQ) and can talk to other people about wines and spirits. It keeps me sane and pays for some of the unending list of mechanical problems that keep coming up...
Our summer is a whirlwind, probably like it should be. The bus is a mess, there are more showers in a day than there used to be in a week not so long ago and the girls are constantly hungry and complain that there is *nothing* to eat when there is literally no more room to stuff food in the bus… They are fire and water, expletives and superlatives from morning to night.
But they still ask me to clean their road rashes and give them a massage before bed. They still come and snuggle with me in the morning sometimes and tuck me into bed at night with the best hugs and I love yous.
I’m not gonna lie, these teenage years are quite the emotional ride. I’m not sure I’ve ever questioned myself as a mom as much as I do now. My years of know-it-all are far gone… I know full well that I’ll mess up and that good enough is the new perfect.
I’m not nostalgic of those little ducklings following me around like the center of their universe... Of course, I sometimes miss those chubby little hands reaching for mine to cross the street or those sparkles in their eyes when I told them a story with puppets...
From the moment you birth your kids, you are not the center of your own universe anymore. That was a pretty rough introduction to adulting for the 25 yo only child that I was. Fast forward 15 years and I think I managed OK, although not always as gracefully as I could have, like most. But when I look at those beautiful strong daughters of ours now, I’m so very proud of them, sassiness and eye rolling included!
There used to be two ways to reach the Wahweap Hoodoos. Now the only way is to hike 9.2-miles roundtrip from Big Water, Utah, which is located about 20 min from Page, AZ (the trailhead is marked on Google Map as Wahweap Hoodoos trailhead). It used to be possible to access them from the southern end of Cottonwood Canyon Road (located near Churchwells, Utah) for a mere 2-mile roundtrip trek, but the BLM closed it because people abused it. It says it is closed to vehicular traffic, but it might be accessible by bike, which would be a great way to shorten the approach to the hoodoos. Here is the info if you want to check it on bike (but it would be even better to check with the Big Water Visitor Center): The non-vehicular approach to the Wahweap Hoodoos is along an undesignated track, rough in places, that forks northeast 1.5 miles from the south end of Cottonwood Canyon Road, which joins US 89 between mileposts 17 and 18. This bends eastwards after a few miles, past several junctions and ends after 10.5 miles right beside Wahweap Creek, from where the hoodoos are a short walk south.
There is a 2 WD parking lot and a 4 WD parking lot 0.8 mile further after the sometimes muddy creekbed. When you arrive at the wash, look for a sign along a rickety fence that reads Wilderness Study Area. After 3 miles of hiking in Wahweap wash (a normally dry, hot and shadeless trek: be prepared with adequate water, sunscreen, and protective clothing), you see the first sets of hoodoos. Make sure to stay in the wash the whole time (sticking to hard mud patches to make your hike less strenuous) and not take the side animal trails or you will have to retrace your steps (even if they seem to lead closer to the hoodoos).
You will come to a big patch of high brush and see the hoodoos behind that. Just make your way through the brush. You have arrived to the first set of hoodoos. Make sure you keep going just around the corner to see the Towers of Silence, rising like white ghosts, which are the most stunning (look for the White Ghost on Google Map, make sure you have your phone with you to locate the formations, it was really helpful). GPS Coordinates for the Towers of Silence 37°09’45” 111°42’45”
We believe that big sections of the wash could be done on a fat bike or even on a mountain bike with wide tires, which would shorten that less interesting part. Of course, the wash structure will change according to the rain, so check before going! There are several very short slot canyon tributaries, on the east side (check topo map).
This weekend marked 19 years of enjoying Sonoran Desert singletrack at the 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo. One of the largest 24 Hour events in the world, this race has the reputation of being biking’s Burning man and can be anything to anybody... pro racers, party riders, soloists, corporate riders, single speeders... but it sure feels like there are two different races going on as my friend Antonio likes to say: the Spandex vs the Monkey suits.
Away from everything, this trail is only busy one week out of the year. The cows look at us in confusion as we ride by, the jack rabbits scamper off and they all probably wonder what they did to offend the gods for such mayhem to take over their otherwise quiet home...
There’s a new record for single speed solo male this year with 19 laps!! Imagine that! 19 laps 17 miles lap in 24 hours!!
Founded in 1999, Epic Rides has become world famous for producing events that celebrate the many positive aspects of mountain biking. Events such as the 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo, Whiskey Off-Road, Grand Junction Off-Road and the Tour of the White Mountains are popular with participants because they offer challenging, fun riding and emphasize the joy and camaraderie inherent in the sport.
I sit on the pointy rocks on the side of the trails, carefully avoiding the cacti, camera ready, waiting for someone I know to ride by. Every time, I am surprised when JF tells me that one of the girls is first or second. I’m excited, I’m happy, I’m proud. Or is it the right feeling? I struggle with the idea of pride... JF and I don’t have much to do with their successses. I always tell the girls that I am proud FOR them, not OF them.
The world of competition is new to me. I’ve never been an athlete and never will be. I’ve never competed or stood on a podium. In my world, swimming lessons were synonymous of shame and anxiety. So I am a rookie here. Cheering from the sidelines, taking pictures, following JF’s lead. Like many, I used to assume that a lot of these kids were pushed by their parents to compete. What I see now is that this is more the exception than the rule. I see happy excited kids that raise to the challenge. I see our girls count the days before the race. Sure, I also occasionally see meanness and jealousy, over zealous parents and crushed egos, but I what I mostly see is excitement, self-confidence, satisfaction and pride. And it’s a pretty humbling experience.
The weather was unusually warm in Prescott for this time of year, so that meant we could comfortably camp (0 degrees nights and nice warm days) and most of the bike trails were rideable. Our original plan was to go on a BLM camping spot on Thumb Butte Mountain, but there was snow and mud on the steep climb to get there, so we turned around and went to White Spar Campground. For $10/night, you get a big asphalted lot with a picnic table and fire rink and access to a bathroom. There is no water on site at this time of year, but it’s easy to go dump and fill at Affinity RV for free. AND there are lots of bike trails that start right from the campground (Twist and Shout, Apple Blossom, Goldwater Lake). We rode a lot during our stay here and checked out many different areas. The number of bike trails here is just incredible! I think the favorite was Badger Mountain and Sundog and we also liked the new trails at Spence Basin (Tunnel Vision), but there were many more that we liked. Prescott has over 250 miles of beautiful trails. The Trailfork app is the best app to use for this area, as well as the PMBA website for trail conditions.
On the other side of town, there are two reservoir lakes (Watson Lake and Willow Lake) surrounded by the Granite Dells, a landscape reminescent of the Alabama Hills (where you can ride some pretty technical trails), and completely different from the area where we were camped.
Just a week ago, Mathilde and Aisha were not interested in racing the next bike race - The Estrella Hedgehog, but at the last minute, Mathilde decided to register (she is in the same category as Mara, 13-14 yo – the age the child will have at the end of the year – so on the young side of her category) and Aisha decided to race up a category (in the 15-16 yo) because the course was more interesting in her opinion (the 15-16 are on the adult long loop -10 mile with some pretty technical and loose sections - instead of doing 5 junior loops like the 13-14). The other reason is because she finds it too emotionally hard to race against her twin sister. So this was perfect. There were 9 girls registered in her category and her only wish was to no finish last. She came in second and surprised us all (and herself!!). She so needed that confidence!
Mara had a great race and finished first on 15 girls in the 13-14 and Mathilde rode very well with a big smile on her face the whole time and finished 9th!
JF also had a great race and finished 12th on thirty-something racers. Our friends all had great races and podiums too!! What a day!
Last year, the McDowell Meltdown was JF and Mara's first ever bike race. You might remember that they had registered just for fun. This year, they came in a little more prepared (but not super well-trained since they both got a nasty bug over the holidays). They still did great and had a good time.
Some of you have asked why Aisha and Mathilde did not do the race. The answer is that they simply didn't feel like it. They might or might not ride the other races in a few weeks. Our girls are free to choose, of course! As for me, I'm not interested in racing (nor am I in racing shape!).
We had never stayed at the McDowell Mountain Regional Park campground (we rarely pay for campsites), but this was well-worth it since they could pre-ride the course during the week and because there are also tons of trails that you can ride right from your campsite. We explored some trails, but there are still lots we haven't had a chance to ride. There are all types of trails, from wide sandy washes to steep rocky trails.
The sites are huge and well-spaced, they all have power and water ($30), but make sure you reserve in advance online because they fill-up pretty quickly at this time of year. If the campground is full, there is an overflow where you can stay for $20/night with no services, but access to showers and dump station.
We were in Sedona in the Spring and I wrote a post containing lots of information about biking and hiking trails already, so I won't rewrite that part here, but will add more about the new trails we discovered (and loved) this time. We explored the Adobe Jack sector with a family we had just met and really liked the trails there. The view from Teacup is amazing, but a good chunk of it is pretty technical. We were quite surprised by Jordan, a trail we hadn't heard much about, and it's beautiful slickrock sections. We really liked Javellina and Ant Hill also.
I redid Aerie with the girls and it's just such a beautiful flowy trail, so is Adobe Jack (a great family trail!). JF and Mara went to ride Highline, Slimshady, Made in the Shade and Templeton. JF went to explore the Hogs by himself and report on how technical they were.
It was super fun to celebrate Halloween there too. We had no idea how it would be or which neighborhood we would visit to go trick or treating since the houses are all pretty far apart. We found out at the last minute that the big celebration was happening on Main Street where all the stores gave out candies and there were shows in the streets. There was a great zombie Thriller performance and the atmosphere was amazing. Tons of dressed up adults and kids alike. Definitely an Halloween that we will remember for a long time!
We hiked up Cathedral Mountain with our new friends (actually, the daddy and kids did, while the moms stayed down with the big dogs - it's not a place to bring your dog, way to sketchy).
We also hiked up and around Doe Mountain which was beautiful. That's also where we heard our first rattlesnake! It was surprisingly loud. Still very glad for the warning he gave us!
On our last day, we went to explore one of the vortexes too (the Kachina Woman) since it is one of the main Sedona attraction. I was kind of lukewarm about it. You know me, I don't like to go where the crowd goes... And well, many years ago, I got kicked out of an energy healing class because my skeptical energy was disruptive to the group (nobody told me to drink the cool-aid before registering). Anyways, I didn't think I would feel anything special at the Kachina Woman Vortex and went up there chuckling like a teenager among the serious vortex seekers, but I did feel something. That shut me up. Go life, keep surprising me, I love it!
One of the things your learn after many years on the road is that if you find a gem of a secret spot to camp in, you don't share it on social medias or camping sites/apps. Another thing that you learn is that if there is a long weekend coming, you stay put. Even if you would really like to go climbing at Owens River Gorge and take advantage of that long weekend yourself (because no, we do not make our work schedule and have full days off only on weekends). On long weekends, you stay around camp and explore less popular spots. For your own sanity.
There is a lot to do in the Mammoth Lakes ares. There is an awesome bike resort with lots of amazing trails. Mammoth Mountain closes mid-September, but the trails remain open for riders to enjoy. At 9,000 feet of altitude, it can get cold at this time of year. We went riding in 3 degree C weather (that's 35 F). There is also a great brewery (Mammoth Brewery), perfect for an after-ride brew and delicious meal.
There are also many hot springs in the areas, the most popular being Hilltop (aka Pulkey's) and Wild Willy's. These are often full of people. The thing is, most of the springs are bathtub size and can sit 4 to 5 persons at most (Wild Willy being the exception, there are a few pools there that can accommodate more people), so if you get there and they are full, the courtesy is to leave (not wait there or worst, try to squeeze in). Many of these are clothing optional too.
We really liked Rock Tub since it is right by the little parking area and you don't have to hike to find out if it's full or not. The first time we tried to go to the hot springs, on a very cold night after our bike ride, we found it full, so we turned around, checked out Hilltop and Wild Willy's which were also full... It's the reality of it... It's high season here and there are not secret spots anymore. So we came back the next day in the afternoon and lucked out as the man bathing there was just done. During the hour we were there, 3 or 4 cars drove in, saw that the tub was busy and turned around. The water gets pretty dirty from all the people (even if there is a constant flow in and out. There is a plug at the bottom, so you can empty the tub and let it fill back up. You can also bring a brush to scrub the slippery algea that covers the bottom if you want. Obviously, don't use any soap in the tubs!
We also explored Shepard's Tub and the Crab Cooker, that are *a bit* less busy. We ended up camping there for 2 nights and enjoying Shepard's Tub and the Crab Cooker morning and night. It was heavenly after a day of climbing! If you decide to go camp near a hot spring, remember that this is a public place and do not hug the tub (or park very near it). People will likely come and go every hour or so (and at every hour of the night on weekends!), so be warned.
Hot Creek used to be a hot spring in the 60's and 70's. We met a man at Shepard's who used to be a guide and would bring tourists there. He said there was a huge pool where there was always 50 to 60 people. It has been closed for 15-20 years because too many deaths happen there. He told us that most deaths were caused by people trying to rescue their dogs who had fallen in the blue pools of death (the beautiful Icelandic blue pool in the picture above) which is and has always been scalding hot. It is nonetheless a geological wonder where the cold water from the glacier meet the bubbling water from the underground volcanic activity. The ground is unstable in the area because of fumaroles and occasional geyser action also.
Devils Postpile (a National Monument) is an unusual rock formation of 60 feet high basalt columns. It looks like a tidy lumber pile created by OCD giants. They were formed when lava erupted in the valley nearly 100,000 years ago and filled the area to a depth of 400 feet. Then, glaciers overrode the fractured mass of lava. As you can see on the pictures taken from the top, the glaciers cut the hexagonal basalt towers, leaving behind something that looks like a tile floor. The John Muir Trail and Pacific Crest Trail merge into one trail as they pass through the monument.
Obsidian Dome is not your typical cone-shaped dome, but more like a big pile of shiny black rock. It is indeed volcanic glass that was formed by an explosion (a Phreatic Blast) when magma reached the water table, turned the water to steam, cooled and then turned to rock. There is not much else to do there than to simply scramble up and look at the beautiful obsidian formations (be careful, it is slippery). Obsidian is the sharpest natural material known to man, obsidian rocks have played a significant role in the evolution of homo-sapiens' tool-making ability. During the Stone-Age and beyond, obsidian rocks have played a major part as primary cutting tools in many cultures.
Ever since I can remember, Lake Tahoe has always been synonymous of adventure in my head. When I worked in outdoor retail stores, there was always a Tahoe Jacket or aTahoe something... I collected pictures of Caribbean blue beaches with a snowy mountain tops background on my Pinterest boards and kept hoping we could make it there before it got too cold... it was always next year... Finally, we made it (by crossing the border much earlier than usual) and it's beautiful, warm and sunny. We got to ride amazing trails (the Corral trail system in South Tahoe is amazing, don't miss Upper and Lower Corral, Armstrong connector, Sidewinder and for a longer ride, Mr. Toads wild ride).
JF went for a long run on the Tahoe Rim trail and the girls and I set to go explore Tahoe most beautiful beach at Sand Harbor State Park. After driving for one hour, we found out that we could not get in because we had the dog with us. They would not let us in even if the dog would stay in the Westy and I would just get out to take pictures. Have you ever heard of such a stupid rule? I get that dogs are not allowed on beaches and trails, no problem. But not allowed to enter a state park and stay in the vehicle for 20 minutes??? I was NOT happy. This is the beach I had waited to photograph and visit for 5 + years... Oh and the entrance fee is $12... So we turned around, very disappointed and headed 6 miles south to Chimney Beach, a free public beach where dogs are allowed. We were not expecting much, but we were sweaty and determined to swim in Tahoe. Well, Chimney Beach was awesome!! You have to walk down a half mile path to the shore where there are tons of little rocky coves you can choose from (you can either go left or right once you get to the bottom of the trail, just keep exploring until you find a private spot you like... if you go left for a bit, you will encounter a nude beach, just so you know!). We went right and found a beautiful crescent beach where we spend a few hours WITH Stout! And as you can see from the pictures, the water was as turquoise as in Sand Harbor.
Lake Tahoe is very expensive and since we needed gas, groceries, laudry, etc., we decided to stay in Gardnerville, NV, where everything is much cheaper and accessible. We could have camped on the shore of Lake Tahoe for $36/night, but we stayed in a quiet Walmart parking lot in Gardnerville. Not exactly by the lake, but the lower altitude made for warmer nights and we stocked up on groceries before heading down the Sierras where it would take a while to see big grocery stores. There is a Grocery Outlet and a Raley's (great grocery store) 4 miles north from the Walmart in Gardnerville and a great cheap 24 hours Laudromat 6 miles north (Village Laundromat). There is another Walmart where you can spend the night in Carson City, but it's much busier and not as quiet (but there is a Trader Joe's right by and a Costco).
If you are planning to enjoy the Tahoe activities for more than a few days, it might be a good idea to pick a campsite near the Lake (I'd say between South Tahoe and Sand Harbor State Park, on the Nevada side) and go for a weekly rate. Driving from Gardnerville to the Lake requires you go over passes and it is longer than Google will tell you, especially with a Westfalia with its original engine...
The Coastal Forest is just magical... You cannot help but smile when you walk in it, feeling like pointy elf ears are gonna pop on your head or that wings will appear on your back.
Alice Lake Provincial Park is a beautiful campground in that gorgeous forest. It's a popular family destination, so it's not unusual that the 108 sites are all reserved (and they don't have First Come First Serve sites). There are tons of beautiful hiking and mountain biking trails in the park and four lakes (only Alice lake is OK for swimming), but the hiking around Stump lake is beautiful. Dogs have to be kept on a leash everywhere and are not allowed on some trails and on the beach.
We have so much history here (just do a search with #burnslake on the home page)... A broken arm, mechanical problems, meeting friends, moon rise watching on the dock in our sleeping bags, bonfires and berry picking... It’s no surprise when a local comes and knock at the bus door, happy to see us returning once again and offers us a shuttle up the mountain.
I wasn’t excited to come back here again this year. You see, I long for discoveries and new places. All the time. My family likes a mix of both and the girls were *really* looking forward to come back here, especially for the Big Pig Bike Race that we have missed for the last two years since we left the Yukon too late... But as unexcited as I was, it didn’t take long for the magic of this place to hit me! I love Burns Lake. The bike trails are amazing, the community of riders is incredibly friendly and the camping is FREE right by the trails and by a gorgeous lake.
The BC Bike Ride event was here just before the Big Pig and they wrote a great article (with beautiful pictures) about this great place and the amazing mountain biking community.
So this year was the 10th year of the Big Pig Bike Race, which is the premiere mountain biking event in Northern B.C. It’s a family friendly festival, with kids events, downhill races, 4 Cross races, an epic cross country race and cross country events.
On Friday, Mathilde took part in the Pump Track, the Downhill and the X country challenges in the 10 to 12 categorie. She took the first place int he Pump Track challenge behind 12 yo girls and came in 2nd in the other two events!
JF and the twins did the Dante’s Relay, a timed event in which teams or solo riders race to complete the most number of 10 km loops in a five hour period. For the past 9 years, one lap of 10 km was added every year to the Dante’s Inferno course. It culminated with a grueling 9 Rings of Hell last year (for 90 km). I remember reading Dante’s Inferno (in Italian!) when I went to school in Italy at 17. To describe it as dense and intense piece of work is an understatement!
Mountana Mountain is a mountain biking mecca and people come from far away to ride these beautiful trails. Be warned though, that this is not the best place for a beginner rider. The riding is technical and steep in places, but there is plenty to keep the comfortable intermediate busy. For a longer ride, ride Mc Donald Creek or Nares View. For a quick afternoon ride we like to combine Maggie's Run, Sporting Wood, upper Dei Kwan, Sam McGee and AK DNR (then Mossy all the way to the beach on a nice day). Another good combo is Holey Roads, upper Dei Kwan, Lower Wolverine and Fox. Upper Wolverine will delight the more advanced riders, so will Black Bear and Goat. You can shuttle up or ride the nice uptrack (or do a bit of both!). Get more info on the trails here.
There are two places to camp in the area (on top of an ugly pricy RV park): the Carcross campground is right in town, but in a nice wooded area (that's where we like to stay, riding and walking distance from everything, good cell signal, free wood, included in our Yukon camping pass). There is also a new territorial campground 10 minutes out of town called Conrad. It's also treed and more quiet, but there is no cell signal and you need to drive to get anywhere.
There is the famous Carcross desert where every tour bus coming from Skagway (AK) stops, but there are also some beautiful (and hard!) hiking trails that rewards you with beautiful views of the area after only 10-15 minutes of hiking (no need to go all the way to the top, but we highly recommend it!). I especially recommend you hike Nares Mountain, Caribou mountain or Sam McGee (also called Mountain Hero), 2 km passed Conrad Campground. Bring your bear spray and make lots of noise, we have seen bears on these trails every year we came to hike them.
Carcross is a really cute little town with one of the most beautiful (although often very windy) beaches in the Yukon. The new Carcross Commons is a cluster of tiny houses with Tlingit-inspired facades featuring artisans, an amazing coffee shop, a gelato shop, an authentic maple products shop, a bike shop and lots more. There is also a delicious restaurant called The Bistro.
There isn't much in terms of supply in Carcross. A corner store with pricy crappy food, a laundromat at the RV park (and that allowed us to fill our water jugs there) and dump and fill for $10, no propane, so make sure you come prepare and grocery shop in Whitehorse before coming.
By the way, for those interested, I think my love affair with the Fujifilm x-100t is already over. I miss the bokeh of my Nikon 24-70 mm (on the D700). I know I cannot ask this little camera to do it all well (as my friend Michel says, it's not a grand piano, it's a synthesizer, it doesn't do everything, but what it does, it does well). It's a great second camera, but since I cannot afford 2 cameras, I'll go back to my super heavy work horse. Maybe the xt-1 + the 56 mm f 1.2 would be the answer, but I would need at least another lens (23 mm?), which adds up...
Twenty-four hours is a long time. But a 24 hour bike race under the midnight sun with some good friends? It goes by pretty fast... at least when you race (not so much for the support parents!). There were only 2 junior teams this year, The Mountain Goats (our all-girl team) and School's Out (all boy team made of the brothers, cousins and friends of some of the girls!), so you can imagine that there was no competition at all!! Both teams did incredibly well and showed great sportsmanship. The 6 km junior course was pretty hilly with some technical sections. The adults (solo up to teams of 8 and a family category) had a 12 km course. Some teams came all the way from Texas, Colorado, Ontario and Alaska to participate.
It's such a fun event, especially in a small town like Whitehorse, where most mountain bikers know each other. To spice things up, from midnight to 6 am, if you race your lap naked (and I mean COMPLETELY naked, except riding gear: socks, gloves, helmet and bike shoes), you get an extra lap for your team! Needless to say, it was darn cold by then, hold-your-beer-with-ski-gloves cold! You REALLY do not want to encounter a bear or crash your bike in your Adam suit!
The kids stopped and slept from midnight to 5 am, then it was game on till Sunday noon. At 6 am, Mara came back from her lap with a missing shoe! She had fallen off her bike and lost her (probably not tied properly) shoe in the forest and couldn't find it! JF went back and found it later. Some girls were getting too tired to ride more than one lap on Sunday, and Mara was the last one to go just after 11 am and when she came back from her lap nobody wanted to go again so in a snap decision she went out again with less than 26 minutes to go before noon. She needed to pull a fast lap to make it, but that second lap in a row this late in the race made her miss the cut off by less than 2 minutes. As usual, she finished with a smile. Aïsha won the prize for the fastest lap by a girl on the youth course.
This was the girls first experience of a longer race with a team and they had a blast. Soon they will be hammering down the full course by themselves and won't even need to freeze their bum to ride many laps. To many more fun events like the 24 HOL.
Such clear water!
I am unclear about how to handle social media right now. It seems like the blog is more and more a rehashing of what I have published on Instagram and Facebook in the last week or so... I am really enjoying the My Story feature on Instagram right now (the bubbles at the top, where you post little blurbs that disappear after 24 hours, yes, a copy of Snapchat) and this is where I feel more compelled to post. I feel like the IG community is more active now than the FB one... So where does the blog fit in that? Not too sure, but I know I want to keep it up and going. Let me know what you think or what you would like to see more on the blog.
This is a text I published on my personal FB page and on Road it up Instagram. You might have read it already.
As we drive through rows of black spruce, the girls fight over iPad charging cables. I put my earphones back on, close my eyes and go back to the Masai Mara in Kenya with Tsh Oxenreider. I'm listening to her latest book, At Home In The World, the retelling of her year abroad with 3 young kids. She discuses with expats she meets along the way about how intense it is to be with her kids 24/7. I've never known anything else. I've been with my girls day in and day out for 13 years straight. As crazy as it may sound to some, I wouldn't want it any other way. Even on hard days. There were hard days when I worked in an office too (many more!). I smile as I now hear the girls laugh in unisson at a movie on which they finally agreed. I am back in Venice, eating gelato twice a day and drinking an afternoon macchiato with Tsh and her family when I spot a black bear scratching his back on a tree on the side of the Alaska Highway. We're home. Or rather, one of our home. But we're always home in our bus. The outside might be less familiar, but we feel home anywhere.
I pause Tsh’s book and look ahead, lost in thoughts. What is home anyways? A familiar bed? A favorite mug? A sense of safety and comfort? A smell we recognize and that makes us smile? The way the light filters through the tall branches of trees at 10:30 pm?
I dig my face into the Yukon moss. Yes, I am home, indeed.
Goblin Valley State Park is known for its Goblin Valley... most people drive in, walk around the Goblins and leave. First, you can plan for a longer hike since there are 3 valleys of Goblins, but I highly suggest you explore the other side of the park which is also totally spectacular and much less crowded. A beautiful bike trail system was developed a year and a half ago and seemed to be barely ridden or hiked. We were there on Good Friday and by 9:30, the Goblin parking lot was full, but the parking lot for this little gem of a trail system remained empty all day (we only saw two persons on the whole 12 km ride!).
If you don't want to bike the whole thing or if you'd rather hike it, I highly suggest you make a bee line to The Dark Side of the Moon trail that leads you along the San Rafael Swell. It'll be a 3-4 miles hike well worth it and you'll likely have the place to yourself (a good plan on busy weekends).
I suggest you camp just outside Goblin Valley in a beautiful and free BLM called South Temple Wash. You could come see the Goblins at sunset when it's less crowded (the best light, since the morning sun is lighting them from the back, as in my pictures, not ideal).
I've found out about these trails on the Trailfork app (I highly recommend you use it since the flower petal like trail system is a bit confusing even if there are signs at most intersections, there are lots of Do not enter sign that could keep you going in circles if you're not careful - we ended up doing some of the trails counterclockwise). I found this page to be the most informative about the trail system, even if it is a bit outdated, the info is still pretty accurate. Lots of sandy spots still (be careful of the sandy g-outs - sharp dips into washes - lots of them...). If you're planing to ride there, I suggest you start with the Buffalo Head trail clockwise - you'll be stopping all the time in the beginning to check out all the agates, jasper, geodes and quartz along the trail. If you're keep (and riding with kids), bring a small hammer to crack open some rocks and find geodes!
Then, skip the Landslide trail (the landscape is beautiful, but the trail is still pretty sandy). See this from the page mentioned above: While much of the trail is already firmly packed, there are long soft stretches which will tax even strong riders. The worst was a 0.4 mile stretch on the northwest side of the Landslide loop riding clockwise. Although it climbed only 100 vertical feet, the soft red dirt felt like grunting up Puke Hill. With the brakes rubbing. Into the wind. Towing a fat kid in a trailer.
Yeah, we got confused and rode it and it's pretty bang on.
Then, head to The Dark side of the Moon (ride it clockwise, even if there is a Do not Enter sign), the most beautiful trail that leads you along the San Rafael Swell (so close at times, that I walked my bike...). Then proceed to Desert View for more lookouts and if you feel comfortable with off-camber AND exposed trails, come down through Lizard foot (or do like me, and walk many sections!).
I've already written a lot about Moab since it is our 4th time here (I published a long post containing lots of practical info last year), but we still had a long list of trails to ride. We stayed in Moab 3 weeks this year and rode almost daily, so we checked pretty much our whole bucket list! The Navajo Rocks sector blew our mind (Big Mesa was a favorite) as well as Bull Run (Mag 7).
We went back to Milt's as is our tradition for the girls birthday now and discovered that the food is much better if you eat inside than outside (that was the Milt's we knew from 5 years ago - we had been disappointed in the quality of the food in the last few years). The space inside is very limited (a snack bar counter and two tables, but it's well worth waiting at the back door for a party to leave - it is still much faster than doing the line outside and waiting 45 min to be served).
We drove the whole Gemini Bridges Rd in the Westy. This year, we ended up staying on Dalton Wells Road since Willow Springs was very crowded. We found a great spot off the main road along some beautiful green cliffs. It gets pretty windy on those flats sometimes, but there's no avoiding it in that area. Just keep your awnings in check.
We also discovered a great place to get awesome espresso without having to wait in line at Moab Espresso and Gelato, it's a little bike shop café called Bike Fiend.
We spent a lot of time at the Poison Spider bike shop since our bikes got damaged just before we got to Moab when a trucker backed up in our Westy while we were parked in a truck stop to cook dinner one night. Lucky for us, the trucker's insurance company was great and covered all the damages and bike rentals while the bikes were getting fixed (JF got a brand new bike). We had great service and if ever you need anything while in town, go see Russell, one of the managers, he's really an awesome person!