Search This Blog

Friday, September 15, 2017

Virginia Appalachian Trail: Backpack Reeds Gap to Rockfish Gap

If you have someone who is willing to drop you off and pick you up, the Appalachian Trail in Virginia between Reeds Gap and Rockfish Gap is a great three day, no-rush hike. Reeds Gap and Rockfish Gap trailheads are right off the Blue Ridge Parkway, so they are easy to find and this section of the AT has great views, but it is no easy stroll - pack lite and get ready for some serious hills!

Note: We usually get a chance to take this trip in the summer, so please pay attention to the weather and pack accordingly. This description is for a July/August hike and the temperatures were in the 80s during the day and 60s at night. During this time of year, rain showers are always a possibility and during our most recent trip it rained off and on every day, so this will also affect your packing list. But remember, embrace the weather and love the rain - you're on the AT, everyone smells. 

Reeds Gap trail head is located where HWY 664 intersects the Blue Ridge Parkway and that area of Virginia is in Nelson County. Nelson County has some fantastic craft breweries and wineries - there is a cider house and a meadery down there too, so before you start hiking, you might want to think about spending some time on Route 151, or Nelson 151. My husband and I always meander our way down to the trail head and get a solid meal and a local beer in preparation for three days of trail food, extra carbs, right?!

This section of the AT is less than 20-miles, so we totally realize that thru-hikers knock it out in a day, but for us, this hike is about getting outside, so we do not rush it and we take every side trail. On day #1 we usually get on the trail late afternoon and put in about 4 miles of hiking. This trek has almost NO flat section, so we're going about 2 miles an hour. The ups are pretty brutal and you take the downs slow. During these first 4 miles you'll get to experience the Three Ridges Overlook and Cedar Cliffs where you get some of the best views of the Virginia hills (and the exposed rock outcroppings in this section are a stark contrast to all the green). Note: if you cannot get someone to pick you up/drop you off, there is a Three Ridges Loop that might interest you because you can leave your car.

Camp day #1 is just off the trail because that's the only option. We prefer hammocks on the AT vs. a tent because:
  1. they are light,
  2. they are quick to put up/pack up, 
  3. they are more comfy, and 
  4. they dry faster. 
Plus, you are not lacking in trees and there are plenty of areas right off the trail to stop for the night. Remember you are in bear country (black bears), so we always pack rope to hang our packs. Here is is a great site for some extra AT safety tips.
Day #2 is when we put in the most hiking and our goal is the Paul C. Wolfe Shelter, about 10 more miles. On this section you get a fantastic side trail to Humpback Rocks that overlooks the whole valley and you can even see the Wintergreen Ski Resort. Bear Spring is a nice spot for a breather and a water refill. Note: this section of the trail does not have much water, so we usually bring 3 liters each in CamelBaks. And don't forget your water filter + purification system (we have a Katadyn Hiker microfilter, but there are many to choose from). The Paul C. Wolfe Shelter is located on a beautiful, rushing (and cold!) stream and has plenty of room to spread out and relax. The Shelter is also at a lower elevation, so you're going relatively downhill and it is a nice spot to meet and talk to other hikers - it just says "stop here and rest a while." Because we sleep in hammocks we do not set up camp in the shelter, but if you have a tent or a sleeping pad there are top and bottom bunking sections.

** Warning about shelters: there are mice! You would be amazed how much a little mouse can destroy your pack or clothes. **

Day #3 is a five mile trek to Rockfish Gap where we finish up our trip. You gain back some elevation on this section and this is where we usually see (or hear) bears. You are in pretty thick forest and past the rock outcrops by this point. On one trip, my husband counted NINE bears between the Shelter and Rockfish Gap, but we have never had any issues.

North or southbound, this section of the AT is definitely worth checking out - have fun!

Pack List

SUMMER List:
  • hiking shoes/boots (my hubby is a minimalist and wears Vibrams and I prefer trail running shoes to boots, but it's your choice)
  • sandals for camp (I just strap my Tevas to my pack)
  • 1 set breathable clothes for the day (we usually hike in athletic shorts and synthetic shirts and wear the same stuff every day, NO cotton)
  • extra pair of clothes for camp/night 
  • pack (I LOVE my Deuter) + rain cover
  • water (we each set up 3 liter CamelBaks in our packs)
  • purification system + filter
  • food (for three days we do not bring anything hot, so no stove = less weight)
  • rain jacket/gear (we usually do not even bother, but this is a personal preference as well)
  • hammock + fly/rope (because it will rain and you want to stay dry while sleeping)
  • extra rope to hang our packs
  • first aid kit
  • pocket knife/tool
  • flint/matches
  • sewing repair kit
  • minimal toiletries + trowel
  • head lamp

Trail Type:
Point-to-Point

Distance:
20 Miles (+ as many side trails as you want to take)

 You really cannot beat the views on this part of the AT!

Follow the white markings...

Friday, August 11, 2017

First Castle Experience and a Lesson About Small Town Ireland in the Off Season

In 2013 my husband and I went to Ireland on our Honeymoon and if you've been following our travels, you know we had a wonderful trip, but we definitely learned some lessons about off season logistics...

By day five of our twelve-day trip we were getting into the part of our vacation that was less planned. Because of that, we had to be more aware of:
  1. how much time we wanted to spend at each place, 
  2. how late in the day it was getting as we came to new places, 
  3. and where we were planning on staying the night. 
We went in March and our original plan was to rely on hostels and bed and breakfasts, but what we did not realize was that during the off season this was not always such a good idea. (Scott: Note to anyone traveling in the off season: its the off season... which means not so good business for hostel/B&B owners and they often take months off. This was interesting to learn the hard way.)
We rented a car, so day #5 took us from Glendalough west to Kilkenny where I got to experience my first castle! Over eight centuries old, Kilkenny Castle started as a stronghold fort on the river, and then became a residence. In the mid-1900s the Office of Public Works took over the building and it has gone through a huge restoration project (part of which is still going on). I won’t lie when I say I was a little disappointed in this being my first “castle” because it was more like a mansion. I am a dork and really wanted to see things like a dungeon and not a gilded ceiling. I think Scott knew the type of castle I wanted to see, so we left Kilkenny and went a little off the route to the town of Cahir (pronounced “care”). (Scott: Note to husbands - if your baby wants a dungeon give her a dungeon. Once she has checked a few things off her list then you can negotiate from a much better position for random things like “the highest pub in Ireland” if that is not her thing. Which I would like to point out is my baby’s thing, so I double lucked out!)

 Kilkenny Castle

Sam's a sucker for a cool, old door.

Cahir was about an hour and a half from Kilkenny which put us in the town around 5:30pm. (Scott: We decided to take the detour so she could get her dungeon. This is another reason to plan a significant amount of wiggle room into your itinerary. DO NOT PLAN EVERY MINUTE. Your love life will thank you.) The castle was closed for the evening, so our first priority was to check into the hostel on the square to give us the rest of the evening to relax. The problem was, however, that we could not find the hostel, so after we walked around for about 30 minutes we ended up at a pub and started talking to people about where to stay. One guy suggested a bed and breakfast right down the street from the pub, so we left to check it out, (Scott: walking, mind you) just to find out that ALL the bed and breakfasts in town were closed for the season.



Cahir Castle Entrance

Back of Cahir Castle (it was a beautiful walk in general too)

By this point we had spent over an hour trying to find someplace to stay and both of us decided that this was not how we wanted to spend our evening. Instead, we sucked it up and stayed at the Cahir House Hotel in the middle of the square - it cost us more than we thought it should in the off season, but we were able to spend the evening relaxing at a pub instead of stressing over where to stay.  

So, just to make sure the lessons sink in here is our list so you do not make the same mistakes:
  1. leave wiggle room in your travel plans
  2. don’t stress the little things and be forgiving because mistakes happen, it's nobody's fault
  3. March is off season in Ireland
  4. check your definition of a castle
  5. hostels and bed and breakfasts in smaller towns close during the off season
  6. check and make sure hostels and bed and breakfasts actually exist first 
  7. if you want to experience Sam's kind of castle (aka the type with a dungeon and built in the 12th century), she preferred Cahir Castle to Kilkenny Castle
More Ireland itineraries and tips coming soon...

Friday, July 21, 2017

Dinosaur National Monument: Hiking the Desert Voices and Sound of Silence Trails

Beautiful desert views, lots of geological diversity, 100+ lizard sightings, and the most philosophical trail plaques I've ever seen await you at Dinosaur National Monument...



Overview:
These two trails can be done separately, but the Sound of Silence Trail links up with the Desert Voices Nature Trail in Dinosaur National Monument for a beautiful morning or evening desert hike. For its length you get to really enjoy the topography of the area as the hike takes you through a wash bed and up into the red hills and you even end with some slick rock scrambling. The trails also include informational and education plaques and, personally, I have never seen more reflective and intentional trail narration - kudos to Dinosaur for actually making people think.

Directions:
To get to the Sound of Silence trail head from the entrance of Dinosaur National Monument in Jensen, UT stay on US 149 past the visitor center and you will see parking parallel to the road in about 2 miles on your left. The views are amazing as soon as you get on 149 driving into the park as you follow the Green River and get closer to the beautifully colored desert sandstone cliffs and hills. The vegetation is mostly sagebrush and cotton wood trees, so you really get the stark desert contrasts of green, grey, and red.


The Trails:
We hiked the Sound of Silence Trail clockwise and the first section follows a wash bed through low-lying scrubs. As the trail cuts west, you find yourself at the bottom of a twisty-turning little canyon where the wash has really cut away and you get to look up at all the rock formations including the largest, Split Mountain. This section has some pretty tight sections where two people definitely cannot hike side-by-side. As the trail turns east you come out of the wash and gain some elevation and great views of the geological features. As I mentioned in the overview section up top, the trail is marked with numerous informational and educational plaques so our rock-geek-selves really enjoyed learning about the different layers exposed and how much the landscape has changed (this whole area is sedimentary).


About 2-miles into the hike a 1/4-mile connector links the Sound of Silence Trail to the Desert Voices Trail which adds another 1.5 miles and loops back to the connector so you can finish Sound of Silence. The Desert Voices Trail takes you up the side of the canyon to the east and gives you some more height (you continue looping south and then west back to Sound of Silence). The trail markers on this section are the ones I really want to highlight. They not only include interesting information on the flora, fauna, and natural formations, but they took it to a whole new level and included on-going questioning about local economical and ecological issues, water use, land rights, ranching, and invasive species. My husband and I usually get into philosophical conversations when we hike, but we have never had the trail markers start prompting discussions. It was quite the unexpected treat and we kept talking about things long after the hike was over.


When you connect back to the Sound of Silence Trail the last section takes you to the south and you get a taste of what they mean by "slick rock." We hike with poles (I have Leki trekking poles) so we did not have to scramble much, but there were some steep sections. You leave the sandstone and drop down back into the wash area from the beginning and into the sagebrush to end out your hike.
 

The elevation gains on this hike were not very extreme for us, but this is desert hiking, so bring plenty of water. We did this hike in the summer, so we would recommend an early start or wait until the evening as the majority of the trail is exposed. The trail is open year-round though. While the rocks and colors were enough for us, I did want to note that we did not see much wildlife (unless you count lizards).


Pack List

  • CamelBak w/ water (I have a 2-liter pack and my husband has a 3-liter pack and we were both almost out by the end)
  • hiking shoes or boots (I prefer to hike in my trail running shoes, but this hike involves uneven rocky surfaces and slick sections, so wear what you need to be comfortable and safe)
  • breathable clothing (it was hot in the summer even though we started early)
  • trekking poles (I never hike without mine)
  • hat (it's a very exposed trail)
  • sunglasses
  • sunscreen
Skill Level:
Moderate+ (due to terrain and exposure)

Season:
Year Round

Trail Type:
Loop

Distance:
4.7 Miles

Elev. Gain:
340 Feet

The different colors really made this hike interesting.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

I Make Some Damn Good Pies #3: Apple Butter Pumpkin Pie Recipe Inside!


It's already been established that I love pie, so here are some fun pie facts before my next recipe:
  1. Pies have (apparently) been around since the time of the ancient Egyptians.
  2. Traditionally, pies were made predominately of meat. 
  3. Queen Elizabeth I (apparently) loved cherry pies.
  4. Pumpkin pie made it's appearance at the second Thanksgiving.
  5. In the 1800s fruit pies were actually a popular BREAKFAST.
You're welcome. So, as a thank you for bearing with my pie trivia, below is the recipe for my Apple Butter Pumpkin Pie - enjoy!

Ingredients:
3 eggs
1 C canned pumpkin
1 C apple butter
1/2 C sugar
1 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/8 tsp nutmeg
3/4 half and half

pie crust of your choice

Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees
  2. Prepare your pie crust in a pie pan and set aside
  3. In a large bowl whisk eggs, pumpkin, apple butter, sugar, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg and then stir in half and half until smooth
  4. Pour mixture into pie shell and place in oven
  5. After 10 minutes reduce temperature to 350 degrees
  6. Bake until the center of the pie is set, about 35 to 40 minutes
  7. Serve hot or cold with whipped cream!

I decided to top this beauty with pecan halves!

PS - If you are in Virginia in May, you should definitely check out the Gordonsville Fried Chicken Festival and try my award-winning pies!

Friday, June 16, 2017

I Make Some Damn Good Pies #2: MARBLED CHOCOLATE RUM CREAM PIE Recipe Inside!


So, as the title suggests, this is my second post about the amazing pies I make and have the blue ribbons to write home about. For those of you who did not have a chance to check out the first post here with my award winning Pear, Cranberry, and Ginger Pie this is your chance to replicate some yummy goodness. I am of the opinion that you really do not need an excuse to make a pie (or eat a pie for that matter) and will take a well-made pie over a cake any day.

Below are just a few reasons why I am a #1 pie fan:
  1. Pies are more creative. You can have a traditional flaky crust, graham cracker crust, Girl Scott cookie crust (yes, trust me, it's as amazing as it sounds), or no crust at all. You can put crumble on top, whipped cream, fruit, more whipped cream - and I'm convinced that crisps and cobblers are just pies in disguise, so throw those in as well. Oh, and then there are strudels - yes, this falls into my pie category too.
  2. Pies can fit the seasons better and highlight all the wonderful different foods that are available at different times of the year. If it's autumn time you can sit around with your fluffy sweater and enjoy a pumpkin pie slice or two. If it's summer you can have a bite of a light lemon custard topped with fresh berries from your back yard.
  3. Cheesecake is in fact a pie and you will not convince me otherwise. 
  4. Pies can be savory (and I might be nice and publish an entire post series on the amazing-ness of quiches and pot pies). 
  5. You eat pie on Pi Day.
  6. Pie pairs better with beer - enough said.
One of my favorites types of pies are cream pies (and I put as much whipped cream as I can on top), so, I hope you enjoy the recipe below for my MARBLED CHOCOLATE RUM CREAM PIE:

Ingredients

crust of your choice - we prefer a graham cracker crust for this one
** Note: If you want to use a traditional pie crust you have to bake it first, this is a NO BAKE pie

1 envelope unflavored gelatin
3/4 C sugar, divided
1/8 tsp salt
2 eggs, separated
1 C milk
1/4 dark rum
12 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 C whipping cream
2 tsp vanilla

Directions

Step #1
  1. Using a double boiler mix the gelatin, 1/4 C sugar, and the salt
  2. Then beat in the egg yolks and milk
  3. Cook, stirring constantly with a whisk until the mixture is slightly thickened
  4. Then remove from heat
  5. Add the chocolate chips and stir until thoroughly blended and all the chocolate is melted
  6. Chill chocolate mixture until thickened and then add the rum and set aside
Step #2
  1. In a bowl beat the egg whites until foamy, gradually adding 1/4 C sugar and then beat until stiff
  2. Fold the chocolate mixture from Step #1 and the egg whites
Step #3
  1.  In another bowl whip the cream with the remaining 1/4 C sugar and vanilla until stiff
Step #4
  1. Prepare your crust
  2. Alternate the chocolate mixture and the whipped cream in the pie shell
  3. Swirl with a spoon for a marbled effect and then chill until firm
DELICIOUSNESS WARNING: You will have a TON of left over filling and this can easily make two pies. HOWEVER, what I like to do is pour the mixtures into serving dishes and just have chocolate rum mousse with whipped cream. Chill it just like the pie so it can set.


Feel free to drool...

 This recipe brought home a blue ribbon at 
in May of 2017.

If you have a great cream pie recipe please send it my way!

For more information about my pies or culinary delights in general, check out the Instagram feed on my family's B&B in Virginia, the Uphill House Bed and Breakfast, where not only am I a co-owner but I am the chef-in-residence with my mom, Suzanne.

Happy baking!

Friday, May 26, 2017

I Make Some Damn Good Pies: Pear, Cranberry, and Ginger Pie Recipe Inside!

So, if you did not know already, my family owns the Uphill House B&B in the little town of Gordonsville in Central Virginia, and as the "chef in residence" I make a mean breakfast, but I also just like to cook and bake in general. I would have never imagined that my culinary skills would actually make money, let along bring home blue ribbons. Yes, that's right, I totally compete in local festivals, and for the last three years my pies have won first place at the Gordonsville Fried Chicken Festival. The Fried Chicken Festival happens the third weekend in May each year and Gordonsville in general is a really cute town, so you should really come check in out (and we might know a great place for you to stay).

Anyway, while my pie crust recipe will remain sealed and locked I wanted to share one of my recipes that brought home the blue:

Fruit Category: Pear, Cranberry, and Ginger Pie

Ingredients:

1/3 C sugar
2 TBS flour
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground ginger
6 ripe, but still firm pears (your choice of pear, but we're partial to the Bartlett), sliced
1 C fresh cranberries (you can use dried cranberries if you can't find fresh, but if you do, use 3/4 C)

pie crust of your choice

Optional:
1 TBS 1/2 & 1/2
sugar and cinnamon mix for sprinkling on top

Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees
  2. In a large bowl combine sugar, flour, nutmeg, and ginger; then add the pear slices and cranberries and toss to coat.
  3. Prepare your pie crust and fill with the pear mixture.
  4. Optional: We like to coat our pie crust with a little 1/2 & 1/2 and sprinkle a sugar/cinnamon mix on top.
  5. Bake pie for 40-50 minutes or until the filling is bubbly and the pears are soft.
  6. Serve warm or cold with whipped cream or over ice cream!
Note: I do not like following recipes, so feel free to add your own twists. 

Not only is it delicious, but it's a pretty pie!

Let us know if you try this one and also if you make any modifications. There are more to come, so keep watching our posts.

My wall of blue ribbons - gotta love small town festivals!

Happy Baking!!


Saturday, April 29, 2017

Road Trip from Dublin to Glendalough: It Begins on the Wrong Side of the Road (God Help Us)

For our Honeymoon to Ireland we decided to bravely rent a car vs. taking the train. Even though this was our first experience as a couple driving on the "wrong" (left) side of the road, this was the best decision we made and we had so much flexibility.

Below is a run down of the first leg of our Ireland road trip from Dublin to Glendalough, about 70 km south or a little over an hour drive, and some things we learned along the way:  
  • After a porridge breakfast (I decided to switch it up and have a non-meat based start to my day), we got on the road and headed south from Dublin toward our first “planned” destination - Glendalough (pronounced glen-da-lock). To give you an idea of our thought process, we basically Googled out a general route for our trip and for the first few days went ahead and got hotels until we were a bit more comfortable. (Scott: This seems pretty simple, but it was anything but and actually gives an interesting insight into marriage. My inclination was to plan nothing and hers to plan everything. After some “discussion” we figured out that she was not as comfortable given this was her first trip to Europe. Thus, we developed a compromise where we planned out the beginning “until we were comfortable” and then had some “wing it” worked into the end. I strongly suggest this process for others with similar dynamics.) 
  • The drive to Glendalough was only an hour, but we took our time. (Scott: And by this she means drove VERY slowly through Dublin and freaked out with our first highway/120km/h experience!) We drove through the village of Roundwood and learned that the Monday after St. Patty’s Day is a holiday, so almost everything was closed. We were able, though, to discover the “highest pub in Ireland;” The Vartry House’s pub, Kavanaghs, at a staggering (sic) 800 ft. above sea level!  This is also where I discovered liquid crack and my drink of the trip - a Smithwick’s Shandy (or a “Smiddick’s” Shandy). This ambrosia consists of Smithwick’s beer and red lemonade - which is some red carbonated yummy-goodness - wow!  (Scott: She downplays the awesomeness that was this pub. Ok, maybe not awesome, but the bartender was tons of fun to talk to and they had a fire. That qualifies it for awesome right? She does not, however, downplay how much she enjoyed this new drink.) 
  • The drive into Glendalough (County Wicklow) (Scott: Irish Counties = American States) was absolutely beautiful and I became quite obsessed with the number of sheep that are in Ireland. Glendalough is a glacial valley and right in the heart of the Wicklow “mountains” (Scott does not think anything smaller than the Rockies should be considered mountains). (Scott: Amen.) In addition to being an area of hiking trails and scenic routes, Glendalough is home to a 6th century monastic site founded by Saint Kevin. The hotel we stayed at, appropriately named the Glendalough Hotel, was right at the edge of the site. Side note on the hotel; it was a little expensive for the off-season (over 120 Euros a night), but the rooms were clean, breakfast was included, and it was within walking distance of the monastic site and hiking trails.
  • The site itself was impressive, and no matter how many castles or ruins we visited, I continued to be amazed the whole trip at the history. I do not think Americans truly appreciate how much older the rest of the world is and how we have NOTHING like this. Being a bit of an art history nerd, I was in awe the whole trip. (Scott: She has gazillions of pictures to prove it.) Right off the hotel’s deck was the original arch and wall into the “monastic city,” which consisted of a completed and roofed stone cathedral, 30m (90ft) tall round tower, numerous other building ruins, and an extensive graveyard which is still in use by the local community. The ruins are right in the middle of the valley and you can see the lower and upper lake from the hotel. There was an easy trail from the site around both lakes which allowed you to just take in the solitude and beauty of the valley. The one thing we enjoyed the most was seeing all the different stone walls throughout the valley - they were everywhere! (Scott: and by “everywhere” she means that the Irish are basically obsessed with stacking rocks on top of each other, everywhere, through everything... seriously, we will cover this later but there were rock walls on barren rock hills... I guess to keep the rock from running away.) 
  • After our hike, we went into the town of Laragh (la-rock) for dinner (about a 10 minute walk down the road from the hotel). We were not in town during the “busy season,” so the shops and Bed and Breakfasts were not open, but we really did not mind (Scott: Seriously, of all the places we went this ranks in the top two, especially if you like outdoorsy stuff.)
If Glendalough is in your plans please let us know if you need any help planning your trip or if you have any other suggestions for readers please comment below!


 The “highest pub in Ireland” where I was introduced to red lemonade, so good!
 The beautiful Glendalough Hotel situated right in the valley next to the monastic site. It was the perfect location for hiking as well.

The most well known landmark of the Glendalough Monastic City is the 33 meter tall Round Tower.
Me and my hubby taking one of many hikes around the site and through the valley.