Sunday: Left Danville, VA with my cat. Drove to Charleston, West Virginia.
Monday: Drove 9 hours to my cousin’s house in Jefferson City, Missouri. 9 mile trail run around Binder Lake…saw the biggest rat snake I’ve ever seen. Terrifying.
Tuesday: Drove 11 hours across the wildly entertaining Kansas landscape to my new home in Arvada, Colorado. Received plenty of hugs from my two year old daughter and gave my one month old a bunch of kisses. Spent the afternoon carrying all of our heavy s*** up the stairs. Oh yeah, the cat made it without completely losing his mind.
Wednesday: Unpacked. Ugh.
Thursday: Ran around the town of Arvada to begin to familiarize myself. Took my daughter up to North Mountain. She hiked the whole one mile up to the Golden Cliffs with her stuffed deer before I carried her down.
Friday: 8.5 mile trail run around North Table Mountain. Holy crap this is only 15 minutes from my apartment!!! Awesome! Took my daughters and wife on a hike to Lair O’ the Bear park. It was Zoe’s first hike…proud dad!
Saturday: Ran on Ralston Creek paved trail through Arvada. Sadly spent the morning watching Iowa lose…bummer.
Ok…enough with the sentimental “I’ll miss Virginia boo hoo boo hoo” posts.
My wife and I were on a walk discussing where we would visit on a future return to the east coast. This post is what we imagined would be the PERFECT 11 day roadtrip.
Seriously…I want people to actually do this trip and tell me how it goes! I will be so envious.
After 3 years of exploration you can trust me that this trip would absolutely be one of your favorites of ALL TIME!
I’m calling it the Like a Bigfoot Ultimate North Carolina and Virginia Roadtrip.
DAY 1: ASHEVILLE, NC
Our favorite town in North Carolina (and quite possibly the country). Good food, good beer, any outdoor activity you could possibly want, there’s always something going on but it still feels like a small town.
Drive south on the Blue Ridge Parkway (particularly as the leaves are changing color in October), hike up some high bluffs around Black Balsam Knob, cool off by jumping into your choice of waterfalls (Skinny Dip Falls is our favorite), grab a late morning breakfast at Sunny Point Cafe, tour one of the thirty craft breweries in town, pick up some tacos from White Duck Taco and drive north on the Blue Ridge Parkway to experience the highest mountain east of the Mississippi, Mt. Mitchell, for a gorgeous sunset picnic. COME ON SON! PERFECT DAY! (Huge smile on my face writing this! Seriously this would be the absolute perfect day)
DAYS 2-4: LINVILLE GORGE
Spend the next few days backpacking around the Linville Gorge. You will find solitude and adventure as you hike around the “Grand Canyon of the East”. I ran Shortoff Mountain to Table Rock one day this summer and would highly suggest making a nice long 22 mile loop by traversing form there down into the gorge and hiking back along the Linville Gorge Trail next to the river! You could probably do this in two days, but should extend it into three so you can take in the views, cool off in the river, boulder up a few of the rocks, and really experience all the Gorge has to offer.
DAY 5: GRAYSON HIGHLANDS STATE PARK
Next I would drive north past Boone into Southern Virginia and spend a day and night backcountry camping in Grayson Highlands State Park. Hang out with wild ponies (who doesn’t want to do this!), check out the Rhododendron blooms and take in some of the best views in all of the Appalachian Mountains. The park is almost exclusively on balds (what Easterners call mountain tops without trees) so the views are jaw dropping. This would be a great place to spend a night just chilling out by the campfire, eating snacks made with a mountain pie iron!
DAY 6: HIGHWAY 58
Next, you HAVE to drive the Crooked Road (Highway 58) through southwestern Virginia. This is known as Virginia’s Musical Heritage and was significant in the history of Bluegrass music. Here’s an awesome New York Times article about this drive. Trust me though…gorgeous. This is what the south is all about- Maple tree-covered mountains, hills dotted with grazing cattle next to tiny red barns, winding rivers, quaint churches…the drive is absolutely perfect, so take your time and take it all in.
DAY 7: APPALACHIAN TRAIL (MCAFEE KNOB AND DRAGONS TOOTH)
Eventually you will veer north to Roanoke where you are within hiking distance of two of the prettiest spots on the Appalachian trail. Mcafee Knob is the most photographed spot on the 2,000 mile trail for a reason and, if you happen to get up there for a sunrise, get ready to experience nature at its best! Strap those hiking shoes on for a long day though…as a hike up and back Mcafee is 8 miles and Dragons tooth is at least 6 (Dragons Tooth is shorter but a lot more challenging as it is definitely a steeper and more rocky). If you get down in time then head into Roanoke and get dinner at the River and Rail restaurant. I’m adamant that it’s the best fried chicken in Virginia and I will arm wrestle anyone who disagrees!
DAY 8-9: SHENANDOAH VALLEY
You can’t go to Virginia and not visit the most popular national park in the nation. You can do more hiking along the Appalachian Trail and summiting Old Rag Mountain or you can choose to do what my family and I did every year….get a cabin and chill. Hang out in the forest next to the twisty and turny Shenandoah River and simply relax with a cup of coffee for the perfect morning.
DAYS 11-12: FALSE CAPE STATE PARK
Ok this is pushing it and a trip here will easily be the longest drive on the trip, but, as an Iowa boy, I feel like traveling to a coastal state necessitates a visit the ocean. So wake up early, drive 4-5 hours to the coast, and…this is super important…speed past the tourist trap that is Virginia Beach…as fast as possible! In my estimation, if you want a beach then you gotta earn the beach! People are not allowed to drive into False Cape State Park so you must earn it by backpacking in the 4 miles or by taking a boat. This park is a rare place of isolation on the east coast, which means you will have about 6 miles of pristine beach to YOURSELF! This has to be one of the only spots in the country where you can experience this, so a visit here is a MUST. Relaxing by a campfire with a bottle of wine on an empty beach sounds like the perfect way to end a vacation to me!
Hope you enjoyed this! If you want more specifics about trails, campsites, restaurants, directions etc, you can always comment below or email me at email@example.com and I’ll do my best to help you plan a trip!
As you can tell, my family and I have really enjoyed exploring this beautiful area of the country and writing this post has made me SUPER EXCITED to vacation here someday in the future(when my girls are a little older). Can’t wait to come back!
One of my best friends is in the midst of his 14ers Project where he is hiking 75 mountains in 75 days and filming a documentary. We’re not talking about “small” mountains, we are talking the 14ers- the tallest ones in the contiguous United States!
As of today he has finished 15 and is going strong! Please support him by following Calvin.Johannsen on instagram or the hashtag #14ersproject or #75mtns75days
If you are in Colorado, California or Washington feel free to join him by contacting him by filling out the participation form here. He’s currently in Colorado in the middle of the “Collegiate Peaks”, the massive mountains lining the skyline between Buena Vista and Leadville, and is hopefully part way up Mt. Yale this morning.
Why climb a 14er??? Why not??
It’ll be one of the best experiences you have…that’s a promise!
Come on how could you not be inspired by this beautiful mountain climbing man??
The Colorado 14ers (actually, all mountains) have special meaning to me. Mountains can represent challenges, solitude, community. They have acted as a tool to help me build lasting friendships, push my personal comfort zone, realize my potential, fill my never-ending hunger for adventure, and even heal me during the toughest time in my life. Whenever I have found my wheels spinning, a trip to the mountains has kicked me back into gear. Mountains are whatever I need them to be- a therapist, a test of will, a life-changer, or simply a good time with friends. They give me a chance to reconnect with nature and create lasting memories with my best friends. Hiking mountains have even allowed me to feel close to loved ones I have lost. I need mountains to fulfill my own happiness.
In 2008, my friends and I road tripped overnight from Iowa City to the trailhead of Longs Peak. Sleep-deprived and suffering from altitude sickness, the mountain nearly destroyed me. Although I failed to summit, my eyes were opened to a whole new realm of adventure opportunities. Until that road trip, I had always considered myself to be “the world’s most average man”. When I returned to the car, I decided to throw the idea of being average away and chase my full potential. Now I can say that I’ve summited multiple peaks, spent hours upon hours in the woods, become a mountain ultrarunner and adventure racer, raised a daughter to love “daddy daughter trips” (what she calls hiking), and even ate the top of my wedding cake on top of Mt. Democrat on our first anniversary. Most importantly, I’ve spread my love of mountains and wilderness to friends and family.
As I plan the next big trip I’m reflecting on what I love so much about adventures.
I honestly believe a life without adventure would not be a life worth living.
But adventure is what you make it. You can have little adventures all the time. You don’t need to head to Mt. Everest or the Amazon (although giant overseas trips are amazing). You can have adventures in your own backyard. You can approach every day with the curiosity of a child (what my two year old teaches me daily!). You can go exploring everywhere.
The world is a fascinating place.
You just got to be receptive to it.
(This is an Anti-Zombie-Mode public service announcement)
First of all, if you live in the southeast (Georgia, Carolinas, or Virginia) you should sign up for a Run Bum race IMMEDIATELY. What I look for when I sign up for an ultra is adventure. That’s my number one priority. I want well designed courses, fun people, a kick-butt challenge, good food, but most importantly- BEAUTIFUL TRAILS. The race needs to take my jaw drop by showing me touring me through a stunningly gorgeous place I have never been before. I want some badass views, waterfalls, cliffs, weird animals, and so on. At some point during the race I want to feel like I’m Indiana Jones lost in the middle of some crazy wilderness.
I think “Run Bum” the race director gets this. He must value the same experience. Sure, the “racing” aspect is tons of fun, but its everything else that makes an event memorable.
I’ve participated in three of his events (Quest for the Crest 10k, Quest for the Crest 50k, and Grayson Highlands 50k). All three have been unique experiences that have taken me deep into the wilderness, shown me AMAZING views, and have treated the event more like an adventure than a standard race.
SIDE NOTE: Quest for the Crest in Asheville will legitimately destroy your body, mind and soul (if you are in to that sort of challenge)…seriously, it took an hour to complete the first three miles (3,000 ft elevation gain).
Run Bum events have become my favorite races of the year.
The Grayson Highlands 50k was no different.
My friend Travis (“Uncle” Travis to my two year old) flew out from California on the back of the promise that he will witness THE BEST VIEWS IN VIRGINIA in which Grayson Highlands happily supplies.
Unfortunately we consumed by a cloud during the section of our race that would have been nothing but amazing views for 3 hours… Fortunately, Travis and I went hiking the day before to check out the course.
Long story short: We ran into some Longhorn Steers that were grazing in the National Forest, we got scared after imagining them running around with their giant horns gored through our limp bodies like marshmallows over a campfire. We scurried back down the mountain looking over our shoulders every few seconds only to see the bulls slowly following us. Eventually we made it to the flimsiest gate thinking this chicken wire will surely stop a one ton beast and felt safe again.
To be fair (and to keep our man cards) I was wearing a red coat…. to be even fairer, we found out later that the whole bulls hating the color red was just mumbo jumbo. Man cards revoked.
We stayed in the loft of a barn in Healing Springs, North Carolina. In the early 1900s this was a popular destination due to the spring water’s mysterious healing powers. Needless to say we drank gallons of healing spring water, while high-fiving, and assuming that it would protect us from the punishment of a 50k (it did not…though it was delicious!)
We woke up freezing cold at 4:45am (barn loft=no heat), packed our bags, and drove to the starting line.
Travis had never run a 50k before. In truth he isn’t much of a runner nor did he train super hard. Neither of us were worried though. I’ve known Travis for years and he’s the kind of guy that says he’s going to do something and then goes out and gets it done. He’s also a stubborn SOB. His exact quote was that he would finish “even if I have to drag my cold dead corpse across the finish.”
Although I hoped that he wouldn’t die, I couldn’t wait to see him attempt to painfully shuffle around the next morning for no better reason than to please my own twisted sense of humor.
We ran together for the first half mile and then went our separate ways at our own pace.
I saw him at mile 24 for me and 18 for him. He was looking pretty good – still energetic, smiling, and moving foward (the three aspects of a good race). I’m always impressed with Travis when he goes “mindless mode.”
The race itself was awesome. Here’s a couple highlights:
I finished in 4:53 which I was pretty satisfied with since I was shooting for under 5 hours. My muscles and joints felt pretty good and I did not have to make any trips to the woods this time so my change in race nutrition seemed to work out! Yay!
Travis finished like a champion! We ate some BBQ, waded in a cold river, ate some burgers, drank some healing spring water, ate some spaghetti, played some SCRABBLE, then fell asleep. The next day he had to shuffle his beaten and broken body down the stairs….it took at least 5 minutes…am I bad friend if I say that I found it hilarious!
Overall, it was a great experience! These adventures keep me inspired, keep me healthy, and most importantly keep me happy. Can’t wait for the next one!
“When was I the happiest? Simple. It was when I was dreaming.”
One of the biggest happiness tips I can offer is to plan a future event that you can look forward to. I need this in my life. If I don’t have something I am anticipating- be it a trip, an athletic event, an adventure- I find myself falling into a funk.
Currently I have:
The events themselves are awesome, but part of the fun is simply the anticipation- the planning, the researching, the shit-talking (for mancations), the training, the roadtrips.
Currently I’m preparing for a buddy to fly out from L.A. to the Grayson Highlands 50k. I’ve promised him the quintessential Appalachia experience in the most beautiful part of the state. We are staying in North Carolina in some lady’s barn, possibly kayaking, hanging out by a campfire, and visiting some wild ponies. It’s going to be a great time!
If you feel as if the wheels of your life are spinning, as if you have nothing to look forward to I would suggest stopping what you are doing, type in “beautiful places in ___________ (somewhere nearby)” to Google, email a bunch of friends (email 10 because at least one or two of them will be able to go), find a date a month or two away, and immediately plan a trip!
Now I gotta go pack up my bags for this weekend! Happy Monday!
One of my spring break goals last week was to explore a new part of Virginia. (Along with “go for a hike with my wife” and sit on my butt and binge watch Daredevil)
I looked up “hikes around Blacksburg” because it is a part of the state I had never explored and “Cascade Falls” was recommended again and again along with “Barney’s Wall”. Lucky for me these are both essentially in the same location so you can knock them both out on the same trip.
Travel Time: 2.5 hour drive from Danville
There really is no convenient way to get to Blacksburg- you either drive north to Roanoke and than south from there (I did this in the morning before the sun was up because its on easy-to-drive highways) or you head straight through the windy roads of the mountains (how I got home- extremely beautiful but would have been a pain in the ass in the dark).
Trail Head: Drive through the town of Pembroke, Virginia. It’s about a mile through the town.
The hike can be split into two distinct sections: The gorge up to Cascade Falls and the uphill to Barney’s Wall.
The winding stream to the falls is one of the prettiest sights I have seen in Virginia. It was 2 miles of fallen trees covered in moss, giant boulders and mini waterfalls- I loved every second of this section. I started hiking (trail running) at 7 in the morning and had the area completely to myself. It was incredibly peaceful.
Once I got to the waterfall (also beautiful) I took a left directly up the hill and began the hike up Barney’s Wall. The 2 miles up to the scenic overlook was pretty uneventful (aka nothing really to see). For awhile you are heading up this old fire road (preservation road) before you are solely following the signs for Barney’s Wall. The trail was really well marked and easy to find. The view from Barney’s Wall was pretty awesome (similar to most views out here).
Total Time: 2 hours (I ran it so I would estimate it taking 4 hours if you were hiking)
I love going hiking with my daughter. She will be 2 in a week from now and ever since she was 5 months we have taken her hiking in a Deuter kid carrier I bought at REI.
With this bag she’s been all over Virginia and North Carolina.
She’s been carried up mountains, around lakes, through swamplands, over hills, and so on. She’s hiked when it was hot out and hiked in the cold. We’ve experienced highs and lows. There have been (many) moments of laughter and (fewer…thank God) moments of ‘get me the hell out of here’ screaming agony.
We’ve shared snacks, sang songs, learning much about each other during these hikes. Our time with the backpack has been some of our best father-daughter bonding moments or “Daddy daughter trip” as she likes to call it.
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