In the Cemetery I Slumber

Cemeteries are truly the perfect place to sleep for the night (or forever), what with the peacefulness and access to water pumps, but Dravo Cemetery steps it up to make your night in the cemetery truly complete with providing space intended for “rustic” camping.  If only more cemeteries would follow their lead to allow us to channel our inner metal/goth/zombie obsessed selves- but maybe it’s more of an adventure when you aren’t supposed to be there.  (This is that moment where I wish I had access to my high school senior photos- but just try to imagine me in 2000 with hair down to my ass, wearing all black and sitting on the leaf covered ground in the cemetery with my cat or climbing the walls of a mausoleum barefoot in a dress.  Apparently not much has changed.)   If this set-up doesn’t already sound perfect, now let’s add this:  it’s only accessible by bike or hike, it’s next to a river and it was established in the 1800s.  There are vault toilets, a hand-pump for water, a few fire rings and tent pads.  A dozen or so picnic tables are scattered around, a few of which are under a pavilion- perfect for hazardous weather.

I didn’t search “cemeteries to camp in” but rather I was looking for somewhere on the GAP trail that offered free rustic camping and was around 50 miles away, allowing me to get in a nice bike ride and camp for the night.  It seemed all too perfect when I read:

Dravo’s Landing Primitive Campground
Mile post 124

Dravo’s Landing is directly behind Dravo Cemetery, six miles south of Boston Trailhead, one and one-half miles north of Buena Vista Trailhead – it is for trail users only – the campground is NOT accessible by car.

Free. Room for several tents, two fire rings, and two picnic tables. Permanent restroom facilities. Pump for well water.

I currently live near Mile Marker 72 in Ohiopyle, PA so 52 miles and getting to camp in a cemetery was perfect.  So if you are looking for a fun ride to do from Pittsburgh or Ohiopyle and want to dream of zombie attacks- this one-two day trip is perfect.

I set out in the afternoon, loading my bike up with more than what was needed for a short trip to help train me for my bike tour to DC at the end of the month.  En route I passed a dozen or so people, some out just to ride for the day, others on extended trips- their bikes loaded down with panniers, shoes and sleeping bags strapped down to racks.  We nod and say hello and just keep riding.  I spent my last 15 miles riding with a middle-aged couple (also from Michigan but spending their summer in Ohiopyle as campground hosts).  Within a few minutes our similarities were stacking high.  One of which included that they were also biking from Ohiopyle to the cemetery that day.  The miles passed quickly as we talked about Michigan, bikes, bike touring, adventures in PA and their kids (who were around my age).  It gives me hope for my future when I meet people a couple of decades older than me but still very active- they white-water kayaked almost daily and were doing this ride to the city.

All of the cliché things that are expected to happen in the cemetery made my night- well, no Night of the Living Dead scenes took place.  Within an hour of arriving, the temperature changed drastically.  The breeze ceased to exist, humidity began to rise and in with it came heavy fog that draped across the tombstones.  The air became damp and thick with a storm following just behind it.  The sun was close to hiding behind the horizon but still casting just enough light to see the bats flying above me.  I stretched out across a picnic table and watched the bats swoop and dive for insects- their flight looks sporadic but it’s so tuned in, allowing them to hunt each insect down with their advanced echolocation.  Nearby an Eastern screech owl began to call, it’s long whistle rising above the steady rhythms of the katydids.  I felt accomplished and my surroundings were casting a serene display.

It didn’t take long for me to fall asleep, my slumber was deep and filled with complicated dreams.  I awoke near 6am to the sounds of thunder and a demanding bladder.  I scrambled out of my tent to quiet my bladder’s demands just before the clouds decided to empty their fluids as well.  I was in no rush to return home and had planned for a ride in the rain for most of the day so I thought it best to at least wait for the thunder and lightening to pass.  I drifted back to sleep and awoke with just enough time to pack up my tent and supplies before the heavy rains began again.

While filling my water bottles at the pump, a trio rolled up on their bikes, two men and a lady all in their 50s.  We exchanged “good morning”s and they asked if I had slept here the night before.  Enthusiastic about their ride, they told me that today was the annual That Dam Ride.  I knew nothing of it, but it was a 69 mile ride most of which covered my route for the day.  They then camp at the Dam in Confluence and ride back the next day.  They encouraged me to to ride with them and pretend I was a part of the event so I could get lunch and snacks along the way.  Perfect!  Had I of known about the ride, I would have actually registered and participated but I couldn’t deny that this was a pretty solid arrangement.  I didn’t ride with this trio, but within 10 miles, under the pouring rain I found myself chatting with another middle-aged rider.  He told me he was doing the Dam ride as well and gave me some more details.  We ended up riding the entire way to Ohiopyle together and covered various discussions on politics and the environment.  He, too, had kids my age and was quite proud of their accomplishments as he should be.  I always find that I get along with many of my friends’ parents really well and as we were riding it almost felt like I knew one of his kids and I was just hanging out with their dad.  Conversations passed the time under a steady rain with the crushed limestone coating our bikes and ourselves. The conversations were both thought provoking and filled me with more knowledge of cycling in the region.  We stopped in Connelsville for their lunch.  They didn’t have as many people riding as expected due to the weather, so I didn’t feel bad snacking on bananas and peanuts while filling up my water bottles.  (Let’s think of this as an exchange of me promoting your ride for the snacks that you fed me along the way, ok? Thanks!)  As soon as I stopped riding, I started shivering.  The steady rain and mid-60s temperature was ok for riding in, but stopping brought chills.  We jumped back on our bikes, collecting more limestone grit and mud along the way.  I waved goodbye in Ohiopyle, anxious to get home to a hot shower and a big bowl of vegan kale and white bean soup to warm my core.

The ride was an excellent taste of what I’ll be adventuring on starting this Wednesday as Jason and I bike from Braddock (Pittsburgh) to DC.


Alone in the Wilderness

It’s 21:00 Wednesday night and I’ve just pulled my Toyota into the dirt drive of the trailhead to Big Beechy trail off of WV150 Scenic Highway.  I turn off my car, and then the lights.  Everything goes dark around me.  I panic for a moment, a long moment and a million thoughts go through my brain:  What am I doing? Why am I so stubborn and why am I at this trailhead at night and most importantly- WHY AM I ALONE?!  Why did I think this was a good idea?!  What if someone saw me pull into this drive and they know I’m alone and they are going to wait until I get out of the car to attack me? WHY AM I ALONE?!  No phone service. Ahhh, I totally have to pee and now I’m too freaked out and don’t want to get out of the car.  CALM DOWN! Turn on your dome light, no wait, don’t- then people can see in and you can’t see out.  WHAT PEOPLE?!  Ok, turn on your headlights… but wait, that’s when it happens in movies: you turn on your lights and BAM there is someone right in front of you!  Just do it, Vanessa.  Ok… no one is around.  Calm down and get out of the car.  How do you plan to go into the forest alone if you can’t even get out of your car at night. OK! OK!”

I eventually got out of my car, headlamp on and knife in hand to pee right outside my car.  Don’t worry, I didn’t start hiking right away.  I decided to sleep in my car and wake up at sunrise to start my adventure.  It was a long drive and I figured it best to just be there at night and ready to go in the morning.  After folding up my back seat giving me enough room to lay down in the back of my car (Toyota Rav4) I got out the map printouts, copies I had made from a trail guide and my hiking GPS.  Something I’ve always done before wandering off into the forest:  take a GPS point of the vehicle.  I reread through the trail info I’d copied from a pretty awesome book I recommend checking out if you are going to hike the Cranberry Wilderness: Monongahela National Forest Hiking Guide.  Looking at maps and reading trail guides calms me.  An outline of the hike, followed by a bit of details and photos:

Sept. 13

  1. Big Beechy Trail:  2.0 miles
  2. District Line Trail:  2.8 miles
  3. County Line Trail:  4.0 miles

Sept. 14

  1. County Line Trail:  3.0 miles
  2. Middle Fork Trail:  2.5 miles
  3. Big Beechy Trail:  3.0 miles

Sept. 15

  1. Big Beechy Trail:  3.5 miles

Total:  20.8 miles  (I’m going to call it at least 21 because I wandered and check out some things off trail.)

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Professional Dreamers

…full time travelers, part time workers…professional dreamers

Those are the people that you can find in Antarctica, so says Stefan Pashov the philosopher and forklift driver living in Antarctica and interviewed in Werner Herzog‘s film, Encounters at the End of the World.

I find it a bit ironic that I can be so drawn to the only continent in which bats do not exist, but alas it is true, winged mammals are not the only creatures that fascinate me.  And those glaciers…how can one not be drawn to their intense and massive beauty, their movements making them just as alive.

Herzog is by far my favorite writer, producer, director – drawing me in with his voice that is the perfection of narration and intriguing me with topics often ignored by film.  Although I have yet to see them all, I do not doubt that Encounters at the End of the World will continue to be the most fascinating.  Originally inspired by the videos taken by a diver and scientist in Antarctica, Herzog explores who the people are living on this continent and what has brought them there.  Going back to what was said above,

…a fair amount of the population here are full time travelers and part time workers… those are the professional dreamers.  Through them the great cosmic dreams come into fruition….there are many different ways for the reality to bring its self forward and dreaming is definitely one of those ways.

The dedication and passion documented in this film inspires me to no end.  From those who escaped their life of imprisonment and now live a life where at any moment they have everything they need in their bag and can survive and be ready for any adventure.  Another so intrigued by the behavior and life of penguins that the interest of conversations with humans no longer exists.  Scientists discovering new species on the ocean floor that go beyond anything that has ever been depicted in the sci-fi world.  The thought of pressing my ear to the ice and hearing the weddell seals calling below…I can’t even begin to imagine the emotions of such an experience.

I’ll end with that and asking myself what am I doing laying in my apartment awake dreaming night after night, keeping myself from sleeping with thoughts of adventures in my future.

Uruguay in just over a week…

Matt on the beach of Punta del Diablo, Uruguay

Exploring Uruguay in just over a week is not nearly enough time for this beautiful country.  However we have now reached the point where everyday we wonder what we will run out of first, time or money?  I often tend to live my life not thinking much of either of the two but now everyday we reasses our situation.

It was in Uruguay that it hit us hard that we must purchase our tickets home or try to find jobs to sustain ourselves here.  If we took the risk of trying to stay in South America then we may have taken the chance of not being able to afford our tickets home.  So tickets were bought and reluctantly we will make our way back to the U.S.  It´s probably about time I stop putting off my student loans and well…. look into more studies as well.

But enough of that….

In Rosario, Argentina we both decided we didn´t feel like being in another city and scoped out the bus station as soon as we arrived looking for a way out.  A night bus into Uruguay.  We thought, perfect this way we can also avoid the cost of sleeping in a hostel.  Matt scribbled down some numbers, comparing the cost of different bus options and estimating camping and hostel options.  We chose to take the bus that would take us to the first city on the Uruguay border, Fray Bentos.  From here, we would look for more affordable traveling options (hitchhiking!), which we managed to do from Fray Bentos to Colonia del Sacramento.

One would assume that the bus would take you to the city you have paid for, but instead we found ourselves at the Argentina Uruguay frontera at 430am being told that this was our stop.  I wasn´t able to convince them to take us a little closer to Fray, so we set about our way walking on the empty highway to Fray Bentos.  The guy at the border told us we had to walk 10km to get to Fray… I think it was closer to 8, but either way it felt like 20 with our packs and being half awake.  We laughed at the inconvenience of it all and enjoyed entering a sleeping town.  As the sun was rising and people were filtering into the streets we found ourselves in the center plaza, soon followed by the comfort of a bed in a cheap hotel after a long and draining bus ride and walk into Uruguay.

With not much time we had to limit what to visit here.  We left Fray and spent a couple of relaxing days in Colonia del Sacramento.  A bit of a tourist town being just a boat ride away from Buenos Aires, but as with most of our travels, we were visiting during the off season.  We did what we do best, walk around the town.

We made the long ride over to the other side of Uruguay to find ourselves on the beaches of the Atlantic Ocean in Punta del Diablo.  Well worth the long ride, in Punta del Diablo we found nature, relaxtion, hiking, and the sound and smell of the ocean. It was nearly a ghost town in May- we were told that other parts of the year the city and beaches are full of surfers and others craving the sun and the ocean.  But we found only a  few people scattered here and there, wandering about enjoying the solitude.  The hostel we stayed at was very comfortable and we both thought it felt more like couchsurfing than staying at a hostel… it was even really cheap due to the off season.  I fell asleep and woke up to the sound of the ocean for three nights in a row.  It was difficult to leave.

Now we find ourselves in an empty hostel in Salto, Uruguay back at the border of Argentina.  Tomorrow we explore the termas the town is known for and set about for some hiking and camping.

Capilla del Monte, Argentina

Known for its mysterious energy, the mountain pulled us to Capilla del Monte. How could we resist when we heard that the town is full of “alternative” culture and that you could trek up the mountain? We translated this into hopes of vegan food and visions of Jodorowsky´s The Holy Mountain.

We arrived into Capilla del Monte by bus from Cordoba and were soon greeted by Shorty, a local dog of the town who showed us to the office of tourism. He waited outside as we grabbed a map and located camping areas.  Shorty  started to show us the way but was quickly distracted by Big Body, another local perro so we wandered around on dirt roads until we found a place. It was more a bit more than we wanted to pay, but offered a kitchen area, a pregnant cat, a cute puppy and a whole assortment of animals living on their eco farm. Plus the guy gave us a handful of walnuts from a tree on the farm and walked us over to a spot on their land where you could see the sun setting its glow on the mountain that had lured us there, Uritorco.

We camped there for 3 nights another tent accompanied us for a night and others stayed in the hostel rooms they offer as well, but mostly we were alone. It seemed as if every block in Capilla del Monte was home to some sort of natural food, herb or artisan store. We found granola, tofu, soy milanesa, organic mate and a handful of other items to meet our cravings.

Sunday we packed our small bags with plenty of water, snacks and a lunch for the top of Uritorco. We were told it would take 3 to 4 hours to reach the top and about 3 hours to trek back down. I managed to twist my ankle a bit a couple of days before in the city, and thought nothing like a trek up a mountain to help this situation out.

The hike, as expected gets steeper as you reach the top but overall is not very strenuous. We were happy to find that it remained rather rugged for most of the trek. Some small stretches were worn down more than others but they kept the signs minimal, arrows here and there and 7 labeled points telling you how far you had gone and how much further you had to go. We reached the top, 1,979 meters (6493ft) in 2 hours and 45 minutes. This included my hopeless attemps at trying to find birds and photograph butterflies. We also hung out just short of the top to enjoy the silence before we had to be around 10 or so other people who thought they should shout to their friends close by.

On our way up Cerro Uritorico

We reached the top and took in the view, beautiful from all angles. Three dogs also decided to spend their time a top Cerro Uritorico as well, including Mountain Mama a pregnant perro ready to birth her puppies to the mountain. Enjoying matè and soy milanesa sandwiches we took it all in for about an hour or two. It took us just under 2 hours to trek back down, I managed to only fall once but caught myself before tumbling.

The following day we cramped our legs on long bus rides making our way to Uruguay followed by an interesting entrance into the country.

Note- I left out photos of our actual hike so as to not spoil the view for someone searching about the trek.  If you want to see more they will be in the Argentina folder, see the link to My Photo Albums on the right.

You’re in Austin?

If it seems like Matt and I went out to eat a lot….. well we kind of did.  I’m obsessed with scoping out vegan places while in a new city and well, Austin has a LOT of options.  This isn’t to say that we didn’t make lunch and dinner often, because we did that as well.

I originally wanted to put a zine together for my good buddy Christopher and anyone else coming to town for Chaos in Tejas but time fell short and instead I’m making this blog post that will hopefully prove useful to him and others visiting Austin.  It is by no means all inclusive and I’m sure we missed some places.  For more on vegan options in the city, check out VegAustin.

You can get to all of these places by bike, bus, some are walking distance and well, if you have a car, I’m sure that’ll get you there as well.  The bus system is decent here.  It’s affordable, too: $1 per ride or $2 for a 24-hour pass.  Or if you are staying for the week it’s $9 for a seven day pass.  You’ll have to get the 7 day pass at HEB, the chain grocery store here.  But you can purchase the day passes and single trip passes on the bus. Their late night buses aren’t too great so make sure you check into those if you party pretty late.

I’ve focused mainly on vegan food, and threw in a couple of other things to do as well.  I didn’t really touch on bar culture because I have a heavy dislike for bar culture.  There are a decent amount of places that have punk shows here, but I’m sure you can ask plenty of other people about bars.  XXX

That being said….. here’s the list of places that stood out to me- they are all linked to their websites that have the location and other info as well:

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Vegan Sloppy Joes

Note:  This is less of a recipe and more of an idea of something easy to make while bike touring / backpacking.

I often have a fun time contemplating what would be a fast, easy and light-weight meal to make while backpacking, camping or in this case, while bike-camping.  Rarely will you find me following any sort of recipe- I tend to just throw things in a pot.  Take that as a warning in advance that my recipes may be vague, but that just makes it more fun and creative for the both of us.

Vegan Sloppy Joes

Advice:  Choose tortillas over buns or a loaf of bread.  They take up much less room, you can cram a bunch of food in them and you won’t smash them in your pack.

I use a Trangia (27-7 UL/HA) cooking set.  Plus I took the handle off of a miniature wok-like pot that is slightly larger than the Trangia pot I replaced it with.  It comes in handy for two people.  Plus, it’s a safe-for-you-and-the-environment-non-stick pan.  I’m sure I’ll get super nerdy about the stove after I’ve used it more and can give a better review.

On to the recipe!

Vegan Sloppy Joe’s – While Camping

  • Couple of cups of TVP (texturized vegetable protein)
  • Use the same amount of water (1:1 ratio of TVP:water)
  • Little can of tomato paste
  • Spice pack made for sloppy joe’s (or mix your own!)
  • an onion
  • couple of garlic cloves
  • bell pepper of your color choice
  • tortillas
  • olive oil

Use medium heat. I put on the simmer ring and adjust it open half way on the Trangia.  If you are using a campfire, set up some logs so it’s not right on the coals or directly in the flames.  Add a bit of olive oil to the pan, then add the onions, finely chopped.  Let those soften while you chop up the pepper and garlic.  Add the pepper to the pot, let it soften a bit and then add the garlic.  Once all that is sauteed to your liking put in a couple of scoops of TVP- eye it out to your liking, and an equal amount of water.  I also add in the spices and and tomato paste at this time.  Cover it if you can, but make sure to stir it occasionally.  It’s complete and ready to eat once all the water is absorbed.

Pile it onto a tortilla, add some fresh onions or any other toppings that you may have with you and devour it!

They will taste like the best food you’ve had in a long time if you bike half the day in hilly terrain with all of your gear, arriving to the campsite just before the sun is setting.  I think it was 40F and windy when we ate these.  They were warm, filling, and packed with protein.

Granted you can find sloppy joe/tvp mix at your local health food store that is light weight/ just add water, but it’s cheaper to just have a bag of TVP that you can use for other recipes as well.