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Alpaca Farm!! (LOTS of pics!)

(Charisse) Our getaways usually revolve around an outdoor activity: mountain biking, kayaking, snow sports, backpacking, etc. But sometimes, what you really need is to take a couple days to rest, breathe, and completely unplug. And, we hadn’t planned much to celebrate Tim’s birthday or our anniversary, so off to the Airbnb app we went to find the perfect mini vacay. We hit the jackpot with this one.

Tucked away in the hills of southwestern Wisconsin, is Griff Run, a tiny cottage on an alpaca farm.

Chips and Salsa

Have I mentioned I’m obsessed with alpacas?

Though everything was still brown from winter, this adorable farm couldn’t have been a happier, more peaceful, more colorful place to hang out for a couple of days. With four alpacas, three friendly dogs (2 huge Pyradors and a Goldendoodle), a big, sweet tomcat, and chickens, we got our animal fix like nobody’s business.

Marco the Pyrador
Polo the Pyrador (Marco’s brother)

Shawna and Matt were so welcoming and toured us around their property, telling us of the plans they have to expand on the Airbnb circuit. Thoughtful touches like fresh eggs in our fridge, locally-roasted coffee beans, and alpaca treats made us feel right at home. We read, played cards, drank wine, slept in, enjoyed a leisurely coffee and breakfast, played with the dogs, and giggled (mostly me) while we hung out with the chickens and alpacas.

We spent both nights doing this after dinner.

And we got to check out their cool old root cellar.

We did end up taking a hike the next day around the Kickapoo Valley Reserve, with a picnic at the end near an artesian well and THIS…

Thousands of chirping frogs

And now, please enjoy the ridiculous number of pics and videos below of my favorite animal on the planet. Maybe you’ll be obsessed with them, too.

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Sun Rain Snow

The last few months of 2020 proved to be even more stressful for us than the months prior (as I’m sure it’s been for a lot of folks). So, for the past several weeks, we’ve been intentional about getting outside more, regardless of weather…the one place that grounds and calms us, and forces us to breathe deeply and restoratively.

On our last trip to Cali, we built in a little time to hike up a short (but steep!) hill at our favorite rest stop in Utah on a sunny and crisp day for some epic views.

We caught some pretty, snow-dusted mountains at a truck stop.

On a run out to Tacoma, WA, we had a great visit with my Mom and stepdad (Gary) at a truck stop in North Bend (forgot to take pics!). We had fun exchanging a few things…Tim had picked up a selfie stick and tripod to make Face-timing easier for my folks (holding the phone for an hour is no fun). They gave us some albums from my Mom’s collection to give to Landon, who is building up his own collection (Bee Gees, Grease, Beatles). And funnest of all…Gary gifted Tim a full stereo system he had bought nearly 50 years ago that was in phenomenal shape. Complete with a turntable, reel-to-reel cassette, receiver, and speakers. I’ll let Tim expand on his journey to restore and set up this awesome system in another post, but we’re gonna have lots of fun hunting down some of our fave vinyl to play whenever we’re home.

Snoqualmie Pass had kicked up a snow storm that was going to dump 3-4 feet on the route to our pickup, so we had to head south through Portland and the Columbia River gorge to get there. Not upset about this diversion at all. The route along the Columbia River is breathtaking, AND takes us through Cascade Locks, where the PCT crosses over the Bridge of the Gods from Oregon to Washington. Beautiful, completely accessible little town for big rigs. We parked the truck, donned our cold weather/rain gear, and ventured out into the chilly, wet day. After grabbing a mocha at a coffee shop, we wandered around town, down by the river, along a bike path, and then onto the PCT for a bit.

Even Peter Dude had fun being on the PCT again.

Our pickup the next day was taking us near Kennewick, where one of my favorite cousins, Melanie, lives with her family. When I thought hard about it, I realized we hadn’t seen each other in over 15 years. So as we headed away from Cascade Locks, we hatched a plan to meet up that afternoon. She and her three kids picked us up from the truck, got a tour of our rig, and invited us into their home for a shower and to hang with their beautiful family for a bit. When her husband Jim got home from work, the four adults went to a nearby restaurant for some martinis and amazing food. So fun to catch up with them! Wish I’d taken more pics (I always get so wrapped up in conversation), but I managed to snag a couple.

The next day took us through beautiful, freshly-snowed-on mountain passes in Idaho and Montana. While we briefly considered jumping out of the truck to make snow angels at this rest stop, we decided to enjoy the view and stay cozy in our 7×10’ “mobile home”. ☺️❄️

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Fun & Funky RV’s

(Charisse) Life on the road is anything but ordinary. So when you have a bit of extra time before your delivery and get a chance to do/see something out of the ordinary, it feels rather fitting.

We’ve driven by this place many times on I-80 on our way out east, and decided today was the day we’d stop and check it out. The RV/Motorhome Hall of Fame and Museum is a collection of some of the funnest and funkiest RV’s you’ll ever see. Even a few with some real historical significance, like one that was custom-built for Charles Lindbergh in 1939. And Mae West’s 1931 Housecar that Paramount Studios had made to entice her to come make movies for them. The earliest one was built in 1919. It’s hard to believe they go back that far! Here are some of the highlights from this cool place. If you’re ever in Elkhart, IN (RV capitol of the world), check it out!

This one was built on a Cadillac chassis
Mae West’s Housecar
Everything was tiny in this one. It looked custom-built for kids.
This sunken floor allowed people to cook without being hunched over.
There are no words…
Clearly, toilets and sinks have come a long way
A REALLY old toaster
And this gem of a picture…what is happening here?
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Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore – Upper Peninsula, MI

(Maverick) If you had asked me ten years ago if I would ever venture into the woods by myself for a few days, the answer would have been a definitive “no”. I’ve now taken my third solo backpacking trip and find I absolutely crave the solitude and peace that comes from being alone in nature.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, while just a few hours from home, feels like another world away. With sand dunes, rock cliffs streaked with minerals, and crystal clear Lake Superior waters, this area is a backpacker’s paradise. I spent 2 1/2 days on the North Country Scenic Trail, covering 25 of the 42 miles along the lakeshore.

A shuttle company in the area will take you from where you park your car to your starting point for just $25. I parked at a little country store in Melstrand and caught the shuttle to Log Slide, not far from the Au Sable lighthouse. It was a sunny and easy 2.5 mile hike to my campsite for the night, which turned out to be close enough to the shore to hear waves rolling in while I drifted off to sleep. I ate my dinner down by the water, chatted with a few people setting up their tents, and turned in early.

I was sitting on a log organizing my food and caught movement out of the corner of my eye. These termites were busy making short work of what was left of this tree.

I played in the sand, too, because playing in the sand is fun. And SO cathartic. Why do we not do this more as adults?

I’m not sure what this is supposed to be…an ogre, maybe?

It was pretty clear the chipmunks were used to people feeding them. They fearlessly and relentlessly tried to get near my bag while I set up my tent. They’re darn cute, though, so…hard to get too upset about it.

The next day was cooler and breezy. I lazily drank coffee and read my book for a bit before I got moving, then packed up and headed west on the trail. For most of the 13.5 miles, I had a view of the water, periodically moving away from it to walk deeper into the woods. I spent every break down by the water or on an overlook above it.

Backcountry charcuterie
THIS is the face of one happy girl
Don’t these mushrooms look like a dessert???
Most of the trail was this close to the water

Can anyone tell me what bird makes this noise?

My views all day…

My campsite for the night was spacious and just up a steep, sandy hill from the water. I hauled warm clothes, my book, food, and stove down the hill to the beach and spent a couple of hours propped up against some driftwood watching gulls, drinking cocoa, and listening to the waves.

It rained a bit overnight, but had stopped by morning. Again, I was in no particular hurry, and enjoyed a leisurely morning coffee with only 9 miles left to hike. I chatted with a few hikers along the way, and again had awesome views of the water for most of the day. This part of the trail had a lot more steep inclines and deep sand to walk through, but was relatively easy terrain otherwise. My hike ended at Chapel Rock, which is amazing. A nice photographer who had his tripod set up there offered to take my one and only non-selfie from the trip.

The hike out went by the beautiful Chapel Falls, and this trail was very busy with people going to see Chapel Rock. I knew I would want a ride from the parking lot/trailhead back to my car, as it was a 5-6 mile walk on a boring gravel road. I chatted up (or as Tim called it, “groomed”) a nice family on the trail who were on their way back to their car, and as they drove by me on the road, offered me a lift. A successful hitch.

When I arrived back at the country store, I treated myself to a dark chocolate ice cream cone and started out to Marquette to meet up with Tim and Brandon. More to come on that!

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Pictured Rocks Prep

(Charisse) Next week, Tim’s best friend is flying in from Texas. The two of them are going to spend 4 days in Marquette, MI mountain biking, taking a kayak tour of Pictured Rocks, and soaking up the food and brew culture in this adventure-loving college town.

That leaves me to venture out on my own with a 2-1/2 day backpacking trip along the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in the Upper Peninsula (UP) of Michigan. Tim and I hiked all 42 miles of the North Country National Scenic Trail back in 2017 and were blown away by this beautiful area just hours from our front door. Here’s a few pics from our trip.

I’ll be doing about 25 miles of the trail this time, then joining Tim and Brandon at the end for some mountain biking and brewery-hopping in Marquette.

My Type-A, organizational-loving self gets pretty excited about trip prep…and prepping for backpacking is even more fun because your goal is to keep overall pack weight down. I love a good challenge. I’ve still got a bit of trimming to do on my gear, but here’s the nerdy laying out of all my stuff.

Because I’ll be on the shore of Lake Superior, I have to plan for ANY kind of weather, even though the forecast shows fair skies and moderate temps. This huge lake creates its own weather system, and can be pretty temperamental, whipping up storms without much warning. So, rain and cold weather clothes, while adding quite a bit of weight, are crucial.

It’s more likely to be warm and sunny, though, so I have to plan for that, too. And bugs…there could be LOTS of bugs.

Every pack needs a good repair/emergency and First Aid kit. Why do you need Dramamine and sea bands for a hiking trip, Charisse? Because the last time there, the shuttle driver who took us from our car to our starting point took the winding road like it was a Friday afternoon and his friends were waiting for him at the bar. And I get a bit of motion sickness. 🤢

Last year when we hiked the PCT, our food was very carb-heavy, and we were hungry all the time because we’d burn through those foods so quickly. Since then, we’ve mostly been eating fairly low-carb, with a lot of healthy fats. I’m going to experiment with this on the trail, and see if I need food less often. I’ll add some avocados, carrots, and a couple of apples the day before I go.

No pack is complete without a well-stocked bathroom bag. Most backcountry campsites have a pit toilet, but…during the day I’ll need other options.

I’m sure both of us will be posting lots of pics from our UP shenanigans in the next couple of weeks. Stay tuned!!

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Little Cedar Mountain Trail – Tennessee

(Charisse) Serendipity. Sometimes timing is just perfect on a chance happening. I had just read a blog post by our good friend Robin (you know, the one who inspired our PCT trek AND truck driving AND trained me to be an awesome trucker…just sayin’), where she announced she had created a YouTube channel. She’ll be doing videos from all over the country, showing where truckers can park their truck, take a short jaunt, and reach a walking/running trail to stay active. Super cool. Her first one highlighted a trail in Jasper, TN off of I-24. And wouldn’t you know it…we were going to be passing by it the next day. We’d been spending a lot of our home time working on the van, and were overdue for some nature-ing. So we took an hour, parked the rig, and went out to enjoy a bit of this trail in the sweltering September southern heat.

I just love adorable little fungi
Aaahhhh…peace.
A ginormous grasshopper

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Wildflowers

(Charisse) I don’t know what it is about wildflowers that draws me in. Maybe it’s their unique shapes and designs. Maybe their bold and brilliant colors. Maybe it’s the fact that they can impressively grow in some of the harshest conditions: rocky, sandy, arid. Regardless, they jump out at me, begging for their picture to be taken. I happily oblige, of course, and love what I carry away with me…a little piece of beauty from different parts of the country.

I can’t tell you how many times when we’re hiking, Tim has nearly plowed into me because I’ve stopped dead in my tracks in front of him to admire and get a close-up of some wildflower or flowering weed. And instead of giving me a hard time, he just laughs, amused by my obsession.

So, here are my favorites from the past couple of years, “hand-picked” for you to enjoy. 😊

Home, PCT

Hiker Trash: We meet again

(Maverick) Nearly every time we’ve run to CA, we go over Donner Pass, and at the top of Donner Pass is an entrance to the PCT. Most times when rolling through this area, it’s dark or one of us is sleeping, and we had yet to catch a time we were both awake and could hop on the trail together. We made it happen this trip.

As we got ready to hit the trail for a few hours, we met a hiker who’s actively on the trail this year. Typically, 2,000-3,000 people can be found on trail any given year, but this year, with the virus and shutdowns, he estimated only a few hundred were on the trail this season. His trail name is Too Clean (apparently, he shaves regularly, and doesn’t sweat much). He asked our trail names, which we haven’t had a good reason to use in months. So fun to say them again! We walked and chatted with him to the trail, grabbed a pic, and wished him an awesome journey. He talked about how he’d hiked the Appalachian Trail a few years back, and after he finishes the PCT this year, plans to hike the CDT (Continental Divide Trail) next year. Hikers who’ve completed all three trails have done what’s known as the “Triple Crown” (a combined total of 7,900 miles), a pretty amazing feat.

Rooster, Maverick, and Too Clean

After parting ways, we jumped on the trail. Wildflowers were scattered across the landscape, big rocks loomed on each side, and we passed by several crystal clear lakes. Wanting to get away from the interstate buzz and the chatter of day hikers, we pushed further and further until we really weren’t on a discernible trail anymore. Clambering over rocks and forging through brambles, we found some peace with a view. We laid on the warm rock and soaked it all up.

It was hard not to just keep walking, but we turned back in time to enjoy a relaxing dinner at the rest stop before pushing on. Next time, we’ll head the other direction from this spot on the trail and see what we can see. ☺️

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August Acres Family Farm

(Charisse) My cousin, Alyssa, and her husband, Rick, own a sustainable farm in the small town of Tipton, IA, where they raise and sell pastured chicken and eggs. https://www.augustacres.com/ Their acreage is just beautiful, with a stream running through it, and several old barns and outbuildings. We got a tour of their pastures, orchards, and garden. We got to see their home, which is a modest size, but extremely well organized and comfortable. And then, there were all the animals and their adorable gaggle of kids. We saw ducks, chickens/baby chicks, peacocks, cats/kittens, dogs, goats, sheep, cows/bulls, and a pony. I literally couldn’t help myself, and was as giddy as a little girl around so many critters.

But what really tickled our funny bone was their awkward adolescent goose, Lucky. The kids found his unhatched egg in the mouth of one of their dogs, rescued it from an untimely death (hence the name), and incubated the egg until it hatched. Apparently, wild birds do a thing called “imprinting”, and if their first exposure is to humans, they will identify/bond with humans for life, rather than their own species. Lucky is no exception. He follows Rick, Alyssa, and the kids around the farm as if he’s one of them, and even clumsily waddle-runs next to the Kubota as they drive around to do their chores. Here he is in all his awkward glory.

Lucky
Lucky trying to eat my shoes

We’ll definitely be back soon to see how their farm and family are growing!!

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Sweet tooth

(Charisse) Though Tim and I continue to fine-tune how we eat to make it as clean as possible, we both battle a bit of a sweet tooth. Freshly baked Cinnabon (unfortunately available at a lot of truck stops) and Haagen Dazs ice cream cause regrettable lapses in judgement for me, while donuts and candy bars call to Tim like sirens. In an effort to steer away from these processed monstrosities (most of the time, anyway), I’ve found three recipes that curb our cravings and are now our go-to before we line up at the Cinnabon counter. They’re all low-carb, and contain healthy fats and small amounts of sweetener.

#1 Chia Pudding: Um…chia? Isn’t that what they used to grow plants on terra cotta animals back in the 80’s??? Why yes, it is! And it’s surprisingly nutritious. It plumps up like tapioca in a rich, mousse-like pudding made with coconut milk, and it is de-lish! I often make it with cacao or cocoa powder, but made strawberry this time. So, so good. We usually eat a couple of spoonfuls after dinner.

#2 Chocolate protein bites: These chocolate-y snack bites are loaded with nutritious goodness and are a quick hit to fill you up on the go. I add a few dark chocolate chips because, you know…well, I don’t have a good reason. They just add extra yumminess.

#3 Almond flour muffins: Seriously, this one is my new favorite. The recipe calls for bananas, and I used them last time, but tried pumpkin instead today. To…die…for. The weird thing about these is they get better with age (don’t we all wish). I keep them in the fridge (they freeze well, too), and every day they taste better and better. Again, I added a few dark chocolate chips for good measure. You could certainly omit, but…who would do such a thing?

Armed with our reasonably healthy treats, we’re headed for California again this afternoon. If you struggle with hankerings for sweets, give one (or all) of these a try! They sure are working well for us. If you have questions, feel free to leave a comment, PM me on Facebook, or email me at jones.charisse74@gmail.com.

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Zzzzzzz’s

(Charisse) Road noise. Reefer noise. Traffic. Wind. Pelting rain or hail. Forklifts going in and out of the trailer. Climbing up and charging down mountain passes. Stopping and starting at traffic lights. Potholes the size of craters at crusty truck stops. Rumble strips on the shoulder of the interstate. Hard braking for some idiot driver who just jumped out in front of your 80,000-lb. situation at 60 mph.

Now imagine you’re trying to sleep.

I am here to tell you…learning how to sleep in a moving semi truck has been one of the greatest challenges we’ve faced as a trucking team. It has taken months of trial and error to arrive at a point where we sleep reasonably well, most of the time.

It took a combination of tools to get this whole scene under control:

First, we had to get the right mattress. After trying the cushions that came with the truck, then experimenting with a thin layer of memory foam, then moving to a bouncy mattress that exacerbated all movement, we landed on a two-layer foam mattress with a cooling top layer (I’m a hot sleeper).

The right pillow makes all the difference, too, and we each found one that worked best for us. To reduce body movement, we bought a weighted blanket with a cooling element on one side so I don’t roast. We added cool, comfortable fitted and flat sheets to slip between.

A high-powered 12v fan for white noise, and eye covers/ear plugs to keep out intermittent light and front-of-cab sounds. Keeping the vents open/blowing out cool air and opening the windows helps with air flow. And for safety, a giant seat belt “net” to keep us from flying out of the sleeper berth.

Quite the ordeal, yes?

We’re still working to form a bedtime routine that helps us wind down, though our days and nights are anything but routine. Some light yoga or guided meditation would probably aid in drifting off to sleep much better than our current go-to of watching funny videos on Facebook, but we’re a work in progress.

We knew we had to get our sleep under control to stay healthy on the road, so it was worth all the frustrating fails to find the sweet spot. And now that we’re well-slept AND eating well (I’ve got an arsenal of instant pot and electric skillet recipes that we love!), time to move on to Healthy Truck Driver Phase #3…fitness. I’m disappointed it took so long to prioritize movement, but hey…adapting to this lifestyle has been one wild ride, so to speak. I’ve already worked up a spreadsheet (because we’re both nerds) of exercises that can be done in and out of the truck using minimal or no equipment. More on that in the coming weeks!