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Our Summer Excursion: Days 52-58 Home & Charlotte, NC

This is Our 2012 Summer Excursion series recapping our experiences from June 3-August 3 by time and location. Please let me know if you would like more details about anything and I will do my best to work them in or reply personally. Follow the TAG to get the full story. It’s the summer that never ends…it goes on and on my friends…

On Day 51 we arrived home from Elkins, WV after a near three week stay. It was a difficult choice for me, as home is one of the last places I want to go, when given the options, but it was a necessary stop for Brent. He had been trying to work on the road all summer, and doing a fairly disastrous job of it. No fault of his own, it’s all mine. I owned all his time.

D52-55: We spent a great deal of time at home being lazy. There was friend time and cooking of real food, hot meals. There was a lot of loafing about, watching the telly. The last full day at home I drove the children out to Target to pick up school supplies and uniform parts. We hunted for items on my long list of things to fix around the house, since we had some extra summer job money. And it was very hot out (as noted in my journal).

Summer and I are not friends. More like colleagues. The sun may put me in a chipper mood after days of cloudy weather, and I do enjoy a longer ‘day,’ but I don’t care for its glare, UV radiation, and heat. Summer, in our backyard, also means mosquitoes. With all the outdoor time we had packed away this summer, I didn’t have a single bite to report until we got home. It was a blood feast in our own yard. Everywhere in the neighborhood actually. It made tending the overgrown garden unbearable. It had me keeping the children indoors. If I recall correctly, it was also a nasty year for West Nile nationwide.

I welcomed the indoor refuge, the air conditioning, and yes, even the cabin of my van on some of these days. I noted in my journal that on that Thursday, July 26, after doing my Barboursville errands, I drove to the Wild Ramp. It’s a bikeable distance, but I was already in my cozy haven away from all that nasty sunshine warmth, and I kept right on to Heritage Station.

We had tried to keep our home AC off for 2012. The late spring time was ok, and early summer not too bad. We ran into an issue when condensation started building up in our basement. A wet basement leads to mold. We tried a dehumidifier and salt trays, but because it’s a walkout basement, we weren’t having much success. Flipping on the AC for a few hours, dried it up quickly. We tried to keep the thermostat higher than usual, to make the transition from indoor to outdoor less dramatic, but steadily it crept down. We attempted a number of other techniques too. Maybe we can find a better solution to energy conservation in 2013.

D56: Friday, July 27, we packed up the van again, for the third time this summer. We tidied up the house for the sitter, and drove back to Heritage Station before departing town one last time. I grabbed some locally roasted coffee beans and quinoa granola to share with our next hosts, very old friends of mine.

The drive to North Carolina was very stormy. We decided at one point to exit the highway and do some grocery shopping until some of it blew over.

We arrived at Janna and Matt’s in Charlotte, just in time for dinner and a movie.

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D57: We had a movie mantra working in Charlotte. A marathon of old flicks for the children up to an early dinner time with Janna’s whole family. I have known them all since ’98 and it’s a reunion with every visit. Parents, nephew, sister, and inlaws. This time we had an extra treat of some new friends. It was great to meet Kirstin and Dennis and their fellows. Musicians. Alaskan native. They had a couple of fun travel and children war stories to share. On our way back to Janna’s we threw in a stop at EarthFare and loaded up on some bulk bin goodies. Granola, quinoa and lentils, that would set us up for meals a plenty while on the beach the remainder of the week.

Tiny space sleeping. We are not picky. Three on the fold out futon. One on the fold out chair, one in sleeping bag on the floor and one upstairs on the air mattress. Perfect.
Breakfast on every available horizontal surface in the apartment. Mmmm.
Afternoon and evening pool side at Janna’s sister’s complex. We grilled. We ate. We shared stories. More simple pleasures.
Post swim “we don’t want to leave.”
An Earth Fare sunset.

D58: There’s a simple pleasure in the company of friends. Sharing in meals, stories, laughter, the togetherness. We soaked up quite a bit of Matt’s cooking. Hot breakfasts everyday. The children were willingly subdued in their tiny space with more movies and two dogs to love on.

We packed up mid Sunday, and left for South Carolina, where we were meeting up with friends from Florida at a beach house in Murrells Inlet, south of Myrtle Beach. I should probably mention here, we didn’t bring our bicycles for this last portion of the trip. We made a choice to leave the bikes home for this one week. Neither of our friends in NC or SC would be riding with us, and when looking over maps of the areas we would be in, biking didn’t look like a reasonable option.

We pulled into the carport of the beach house (under the house) moments before our friends Nick and Angela, who spent their entire day on the road with two small children. Throwing frozen pizzas in the oven for dinner, we gave huge hugs to our old Huntington friends, divided up bedrooms and called it a day.

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Our Summer Excursion: Days 30-32 Home Briefly & Elkins, WV

This is Our 2012 Summer Excursion series recapping our experiences from June 3-August 3 by time and location. Please let me know if you would like more details about anything and I will do my best to work them in or reply personally. Follow the TAG to get the full story.

Days 30-31: June 30th we wandered our way home after the derecho storm that brutalize a swath of Appalachia. July 1 we were still without electric in 100 degree heat, but the children played and we enjoyed the leftover groceries we had been hauling around.

We had coffee beans and a french press. Brent was desperate. He ground the beans by hand, thankful for a gas range to boil water.

We spent all our travels without a cooler or a stove/oven. The cooler would have taken up precious space and require the purchase of ice constantly. We did carry a camp stove with us (borrowed from a friend), but never brought it out. We thought we were going to use it, but found that with the quantity of food we needed to prepare, it was going to take a pot too large for the stove, or too much time, and too much fuel. We ate from the grocery. If we purchased dairy, we consumed it straight away. The vegetable peeler and the can opener were essential tools. I had one plastic container with a tight sealing lid we made an ever lasting and forever changing trail mix in, dumping new goods into it all the time. There was always peanut butter. We started with bread loaves, but then moved to tortillas. Those lasted longer, didn’t crush and took up less space. We tried to stay close to real food as much as possible, but understood the grain hungry children and bought crackers, pretzels and such on occasion. We never ate fast food, we ate out occasionally for a meal, and always for ice cream.

Not many people knew were were back in Huntington, so we saw the neighbors, and little of anyone else. I cleaned the house top to bottom, washed the van, caught up the laundry, and read a couple months worth of magazines in our mound of mail before the electric returned at 4pm.

Many people in the area wouldn’t see relief from the heat or refrigerators with power for another week (some longer).

July 2, a Monday, I spent a great deal of time ‘catching up’ online. I checked on bills, checked in with social media. Brent rode to work and to get groceries and we made a hot meal for the first time in a month. Scrambled eggs and veggie rollups and pasta with sauce. Quick and easy.

Day 32: Fortunately Elkins, WV returned to the grid well enough for us to head that way on Tuesday July 3. We wrapped up laundry, repacked, leaving behind the bike trailer, the camping stove, pot and cooking utensils, and anything we felt we might not need on the second half our summer. We were scheduled for three weeks in Elkins, followed by some undetermined travel (options included the Greenbriar trail for bike camping, Charlotte, NC, extended time in Elkins, Washington DC), then a week in South Carolina with friends at the beach before return home to start school and classes.

We left our drive way one more time at noon thirty, July 3, with 2837.9miles on the trip-odometer. It took $53.30 to fill up the tank before leaving the city limits. We managed a non-stop drive to Elkins in 3 hours. Brent checked us in to the Graceland Inn (inn side, not mansion side), where the faculty had accommodations and we ended up crashing piling in as well (we tried all year to find another place). He attended a faculty meeting, then we all went to a family and staff dinner at the program chair’s house.

View from the back porch of the Graceland Inn. We ate breakfast with this view everyday.

It was an interesting discussion. We had driven all the way to Elkins, parked at the inn, looked at the map to the hosts house and decided to drive there. Being such a very small town, in hindsight, we should have ridden bikes, however, we took a tour around town in the car to scout out possible bike routes and find the grocery. It’s all about access to food with me.

Staff party.

After we returned to the inn, where we would set up ‘house’ for the following three weeks, we re-introduced the children to geo-caching. Tina and Matthew had taught us all about this scavenger hunt like hobby in Yellow Springs, OH. It became our go-to activity in Elkins, filling little voids of time and making for some interesting adventures. I surprised myself by paying $10 for the app (I’ve never paid for apps). This small purchase was an indicator for more frivolous spending to come. The gateway way saying of “it is just/only” $10.

The Graceland Mansion at dusk.
Caching by flashlight. This helped us explore campus.

Davis and Elkins, the campus we were staying on, had three caches. We searched for two, and found one. It was the beginning of what would be three wonderful weeks in the mountains.

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Our Summer Excursion: Days 26-29 Jersey Shore, Shenandoah River, Home

There’s a huge gap in posting Our 2012 Summer Excursion series that recaps our experiences from June 3-August 3 by time and location. Thanks to a friendly nudge, I thought I might try to wrap up our 2012 events before we all turn in to toads in 2013. Or is it royalty? Who has been kissing who around here?

Don’t hesitate to be confused, or lost as to where this story started. Ask questions, or if you care to, go back and read all about it! It’s tagged.

NYC petrol. Roadside.

D26: The whole while we were in Deep River, CT with my aunt and family we envisioned making an overnight stop in NYC. We thought we could catch up with my cousin in Brooklyn, make a stop into Rolling Orange, and show the children a truly enormous city. As we took stock of our days and nights, we opted for driving through, waving at the tall, tall buildings, on the most economic route (some bridge tolls were $25, we avoided those), and staying in New Jersey.

Toll anyone? We doled out about $12 to get from CT to NJ that day.
This is no way to experience NYC. Shameful. We must go back, without the minivan.
It was the pits. So close. So far.

We had arranged to meet up with Megan, her husband and two boys (and now one girl, it’s been too long!!) in Ocean Grove, NJ as a part of the interviewing we were taking on for Liz Canning’s Less Car, More Go documentary about the cargo-bike revolution. If you have been following along with our involvement, you may also recall that it was formerly under the working title (R)Evolutions Per Minute.

Megan recommended Allaire State Park, so on our way through the Bronx, I called and made reservations for the night. Putting that cell phone to work. I have a whole rant about that iphone for later. Remind me to fill you in.

Brent recording video of Megan and Brain on the boardwalk during that “golden light.”

We felt at home with the Soul Learning (Now Days with the Grays) family and were quite smitten with the Jersey shore. It was the deepest beach I had been on, with a wide public, pristine boardwalk, and homes set back behind the front road that angled inward so every front or back porch had a view of the ocean. None of the homes were on stilts, another beach icon I was accustom to. There was a small carnival flair about the shops, not a touristy, buy here, buy now demanding atmosphere. It was hometown meets vacation destination. Ocean Grove earned its place on our “must return for a visit” list. So far, what and who hasn’t?

Oliver left, Gray boy right, at sunset.
Ice cream pallor, our souvenir of choice, and a super treat from the Grays! (thank you again).
They still make these! Excited and horrified.


The calm before the storm at Allaire State Park.

D27: Brent nudged me awake at 6:00AM to help decide if we should strike the camp or throw the fly over the tops of our open air tents. My intentions were to head back to the beach and pow around with Megan, but that wouldn’t be for several hours, and if the tents get wet from the incoming storm, then we would have to pack them up wet and drag them out later.

We chose to pack up and shove off. Who knew how long the rains would last? It was a 20 minute clean up, carry the sleeping children into their seats, finish tearing down the tents and drive away moment. We weren’t even to the park exit before the sky opened up and the rain came pouring down.

We finished out our route through NJ, crossed into Delaware for our first ever Waffle House experience. Brent still gets a chuckle out of the idea that I asked our server what fruits and vegetables they could serve. “This is a grits and grease place, hun.” Thanks. Feeling better now about having never taken my family to Waffle House.

Does a Waffle House stop in Delaware really count as having been to Delaware?

The Delaware stop was intentional. I had never been to Delaware.

We picked up some groceries then kept on trucking. The skies were clear, having driven away from the storm, and we started the process of determining where to go next. I was thinking we might go to Washington DC. There were several people I emailed about visiting as we passed through. We had two nights left before we were to report in Elkins, WV for a three week appointment Brent had taken. If we spent one night in DC and one night in Virginia, or two nights in DC, or what if we spent two night in VA? And so it went. The closer we edged to DC the more we wanted to keep driving. There was a lot of traffic. It was still very early in the day, considering our early start, and staying in DC would cost a lot more money than camping in hills along the Shenandoah River.

We eventually settled on Watermelon Park, south east of Winchester, VA. This place was nestled on the river, down a dirt road. Seeing that it was 100F we found a small shady spot, striped down and climbed into what we hoped would be a cold river. It wasn’t. Brent set up camp, the children and I squinted into the noon day sun.

Shenandoah River. The river bed was solid, slimy rock. Not much deeper than what you see here, even half way out. Strong currents in places, but very soothing.

In setting up camp, Brent assembled the bikes to get around the grounds. We made a few camp store trips for all the necessities (and the air conditioning). We were going to do this camp thing “right.” Fire wood. To go along with the chocolate, Jiffy Pop, marshmallows and graham crackers we picked up earlier in the morning. Our other two camping nights were just for sleeping, this one was for playing. We kicked around the water, skipped a few stones, and burned things.  Oh, and we used a pay shower. Cool. Nothing like depositing quarters to conserve water and time. It was better than any gift giving holiday. Childs play.

Camp mobile.
The main event. Jiffy Pop.

With everyone clean, fed and waiting for some drop in temperature before attempting to settle into tents, Brent checked the forecast. Could we leave the fly off again tonight? It really is great to fall asleep and feel the dewy air settle around you. That is, it is great for me. Brent can’t tolerate what he calls “noises,” fly or no fly. He never sleeps well.

There were forecasted storms at 1AM. Move the tent away from the tree? Closer to the tree line on the west side? Pack up and find a hotel? It was a subtle argument. If we stayed, which I wanted, he would be nervous, scared, miserable, which I didn’t want. If we left, I would be bitter about money and the loss of opportunity to camp, which he didn’t want. I didn’t care to camp in a storm, given that one of our tents was bound to leak buckets. I was unsure of where to put a tent during a storm, under the tree? Out in the open? It didn’t really matter. We rushed around again, without inciting panic in the children, and stuck yet another camp, for the second time in one day. All before sunset (9pm ish).

As we headed back out that dirt road I started looking for hotel vacancies. There were few. Then it began to rain, far earlier than forecasted. As we approached Winchester a wall of wind rocked the van. We pulled over immediately. Flipped on the hazards. We held hands. The wind was pushing everything over a ridge above us. A perfectly horizontal force beating rain, sticks, dust, and debris. We watched trees bow down. Minutes passed as we whispered “tornado?” “do we drive?” “get out and lay in the ditch?”

Everyone around us was stopped as well. The sky was dark, so not knowing what was happening up and out there was intimidating. There was an interstate on ramp and over pass in front of us. We saw a break in the wind and headed straight for town. I knew there was a hotel on the other side, without vacancy, but with resources. We pulled into the hotel overhang, driving over branches and fallen glass lamp covers. Wind still racing. Rain still falling. A man was in the hotel door way. Initially we couldn’t open our van doors. We took stock of how many children to carry at once and who could/would run on their own. I yelled at the man for some help (not very politely), grabbed the baby and Avery as Brent carried Elliot, who was terrified and crying.

Hotel lobby. Weather channel.
London, mildly unphased by the event was using the camera to entertain herself. We really did cower right here for a while. Elliot was terrified, the rest of us were very shaken.

Anyone else remember the night of June 29th? We hunkered down in that lobby for a good while, with a bunch of other great people. The desk clerk found us a hotel room the next exit down, for when the derecho had passed. We drove down an interstate littered with trees that had been broken apart by barreling through semis. We slept light, and thankful, that my stubbornness relented and we made the decision to pack up camp.

Happy hotel guests. This was our second stay at a hotel during the trip. I sent a bill for both those nights to host institution in Rochester as part of our travel costs for Brent’s lecture.

D29: With the intention of driving onto Elkins for our three week stay, we check out of the hotel and went into Winchester the next morning to do laundry and play at another children’s museum (reciprocal pass member!). It was difficult to see where there was no electricity, but there were trees uprooted everywhere. We didn’t realize the devastation of the region until later. The program dean in Elkins called to say the town’s electric and municipal water was down and we couldn’t come to town just yet.

Discovery Museum. Again, free admission with our reciprocal pass.
These small galleries are perfect for spending a couple of hours. We enjoy them more than the large institutions where you never feel like you get to see and enjoy everything. Not that they are not spectacular, they are just massive.
First laundry mat experience. They did all the work. Love it when chores are fun! Laundry cost us about $7 to wash and dry. We had a car seat with vomit on it, so it was not something we could put off.
So entertaining. The establishment also had free popcorn! Perfect, no?

We spent the next many hours calling for hotels, camp sites, anything along I-81. There was either no phone, no cell service (towers knocked down), no electric, or no vacancy. While I understand some of those rooms were full of people who truly needed them. With the extensive heat wave, many of them were full of people who just wanted air conditioning, and it irked me, quite a lot. We drove for nearly 400 miles trying to find a place to stay and then it occurred to us that we could and probably should just go home. We were in our drive way at midnight.

Stopping at the West Virginia welcome center at sunset. This tree suffered from the derecho. Thousands of trees met similar fates. I can’t describe how many downed trees, lines of cars at the only gas pump open for counties, or pitch black mountains and towns we saw. It was an eerie devastation that was trumped by Sandy months later. There needs to be a talk about Disaster Relief with bicycles. These regions could have used some community cargo bike power.

Our house sitter took air conditioned refuge with his own family, who left us a cooler of fruit, drinks and ice, and a battery lantern. We camped under our own roof the night of June 30th.

View Larger Map: As best as I can recall the route

Fair Weather Riding

Last week we drove more often than we rode, or it felt like it any how. There were illnesses, cold days, and rainy afternoons. I did call a friend, and it took two cars (Pilot and Odyssey) to transport two bikes and my two children in addition to their five offspring combined to get everyone/thing home. It was greatly appreciated that day, as we had two with fevers and one vomiting. I wouldn’t have driven them anywhere, and Brent couldn’t do pick up because of class (also prior to the second Yuba.) I posted a photo on Facebook one day, of Oliver tucked into his car seat, napping under a flannel blanket, rain streaming down the window.

There was guilt in that photo. 53F sure felt cold that day. And I was remembering how my jeans feel glued to my upper legs with rain water. I just wasn’t ready for this weather. Pants aside, I didn’t have the mind to deal with it. Any of it. This day preceded the double episode of hand, foot and mouth disease and the vomiting, so maybe we both just needed to rest. Rest our bodies and our minds.

I am stubborn. That’s being nice about it. I like my commute. I love the challenge of it. I enjoy feeling alive each and every day and accomplishing those climbs and breathing in the season. When I manage to convince myself not to ride, or circumstances prevent it, I feel cheated and a bit lost. When it started raining today, at 60F, and no end in sight, I gathered every rain jacket in the house.

Oliver and I rode, wrapped up in polyvinyl chloride, nylon and polyester, up to school in the rain. 60F is a great temperature for rain. I was sweating lightly but didn’t unzip. My camera was around my neck. The wind was light and my glasses stayed clear under the brim of my Yakkay helmet. Oliver slept.

Yes he did. He felt asleep before we left the garage. Not a nod or a wink from him till we returned. No comments from passersby either. They know this tot can sleep through anything. He just doesn’t sleep at night (he’s still up now!). I put him in his slicker and then wrapped London’s long rain coat around his legs, securing the wrists at the back of the iBert with a hair tie.

I was most impressed with my own giddup. I wore Brent’s over-sized rain coat with the hood down and then tied my Columbia jacket around my waist, backwards. The back of the coat covered my lap like a skirt, keeping my pants dry! The iBert shields my knees and lower legs fairly well. It was impromptu, and made me a happy stoker. Of course, no photo. Let’s just say it aids in my argument of our mobile circus.

We learned last year that we should check our brakes in the rain. First thing. The children do this without a reminder now. Elliot was finding that he was fish tailing in the parking lot. I theorized his rear tread was low, and decided, for safety, I would just carry him and the bike back home. This made for a happy Elliot, and yet another reason e-assist feels like the right choice for our family. The two little boys are a combined 85lbs now. Elliot is near 60 and add in the two back packs and diapers bag and it’s a full load on a hill. I couldn’t even use the full momentum of the downhills to go up the other end, as we were riding slower in the rain. Fresh fallen leaves, wet asphalt, and a heavy bike equates to caution.

He didn’t ride home on his own saddle. He just wanted to see if he could. We might try to secure the bike and let him take a spin around the block one day. Just for fun. It has the potential of a makeshift Follow-me-tandem.

We arrived home safely. I lost my rain coat skirt on the way back, using it instead as a seat pad for Elliot. Every other rain coat was covering a backpack or a body. We pulled into the garage and draped the wet gear on the drying rack I set up before leaving. Best to keep the mess contained. This way, they can grab them on their way to school tomorrow.

We have the makings for being fair-weather cyclists, but we try hard to solve our challenges creatively and compromise between my persistence and Brent’s concerns. Rain pants are on my list, and have been (holding out for used or extreme discounts). We wore snow pants in the cold last year, but Brent thinks they hinder mobility for the older two and then they have to change upon arrival/departure.

What says you? Where have you invested in rain/snow gear to make the ride safe, quasi-comfortable, and quick to transition?


Starting with Spoils

We made it out of the house Sunday by 12:30pm. Between driving just under 200mile to Cincinnati, a full day at Kings Island, and a full day at Great Wolf Lodge, then biking 10 miles to our first campsite, and then 30 miles today, we haven’t had a moment to post. We have barely been able put anything on Facebook.

It will probably be as such until the weekend.

In photo-journal style, here’s been our week. Will try to caption them later, when I have a proper keyboard.










London stayed with my sister while the boys and I hit the rails to trails segment. 20 miles was where my quads began tearing away from my femur today. Ibuprofen fixed it enough for me to put in 10 more and walk to get groceries and ice cream tonight. I still loath a hill. We encountered two today when we left the trail. 350lbs on a bike going anywhere, is difficult, but heading up, is painful.

We are all having a really great time, until we need to sleep. Oliver wants to go home every night. Making the rest of us sleep deprived.

We will be in the Xenia, Dayton, Tipp City, OH area tomorrow, should anyone wish to meet up.

Looking forward to sharing more soon, including the “how much does this cost?” post.

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