Out in the sticks for breakdown #3

After having spent what felt like a lot of the previous week driving long distances down some not very exciting roads, we were quite happy to be away from civilisation and also not need to drive anywhere. To make matters even better, it was a glorious day.

We decided to stay local and did a short walk up to what could have been a waterfall. I imagine in the melting snows of spring, it is a truly impressive sight. But on a sunny October morning, after what has clearly been a dry spell it was a so small that it was hard to get a photograph that actually looked like there was any water there.

It was still good to stretch our legs and the rock behind the waterfall was kinda photogenic. Nevertheless it was a lovely day for a walk, and I was looking forward to watching the autumn colours developing over the next few days in the area.

We got back to our camping spot early afternoon, and spent a few hours using our new Walmart toys to hack up dead logs for the fire. After last nights disappointing attempt, we were determined to have a proper blaze tonight and actually cook our food on it.

I was in charge of log organisation (very important). And also had some fun with the new machete.

Lee went to town on a small tree with the axe, and got very carried away.

I got a bucket of water from the river ready for our morning shower, and soon we lit the fire. It was lovely and peaceful in the woods with only one other person on the sight next to us, who wasn’t there for the majority of the time. For the first time, I actually managed to get my sketchbook out and start designing the rest of Lee’s tattoo, which I promised to do about 2 years ago.

We drank our beers, watched the fire and listen to some music. It was the perfect evening. We brought Amiee out the sit with us by the campfire, and she was perfectly happy to sit next to us and showed no inclination to run off. If anything she was pretty nervous of the great outdoors, and currently preferred to experience it from behind glass. That morning we had tried her in the backpack for the first time, but getting only a few hundred yards down the road she was not particularly happy. Not wishing to traumatise our new kitten, we took her back to the van and went on our walk. She will have to learn to like the special kitty rucksack she was bought!

This made it all the more strange when we went into the van and couldn’t find her. We had been careful to keep the doors shut and they were still shut when we got inside, but there was no sign of her. Knowing that she has found all kind of hiding spots that I would not have considered; we checked under the seat, under the dash and even in a slight panic, the fridge. We thought she must have somehow got out and started walking around the surrounding woods in the pitch black calling for her. The campers next to us heard, and very kindly came to join in the search.

I was convinced she couldn’t have got out, and that even if she had, she wouldn’t have run off into the big scary woods. I kept going back and checking the van, but there wasn’t any sign of her. I checked under the wheels, thinking that she might be hiding underneath, but not luck. At this point, we were both panicking. How could we lose to kittens less than two weeks?! We were terrible parents. We would have to live in this spot in the woods for the foreseeable future in case she ever came back. We would never get another cat, as clearly we couldn’t be trusted! Knowing that we both wouldn’t be getting any sleep at all that night, we kept looking.

After probably close to an hour of searching, we were about to give up. I went back into the van again, and this time I heard a small scrabbling noise. I have never been so relieved to see something! The little monster had managed to climb up behind the bed boards in the pop top. This is something that is not normally possible as there isn’t normally a gap, but to open the cupboard fully you have to move the boards forward a few inches and she had squeezed up behind them, staying completely hidden the whole time and not making a sound. It goes to show she didn’t want to come outside at all, as a lot of the time we were searching the doors were left open in case she was outside and wanted to come back. We were so glad she was safe, and we introduced her to our fellow searchers, feeling a bit stupid that she was in the van all along but knowing that we could at least sleep easy that night.

The morning brought the rain.

Despite the fact that it was chucking it down, we decided to go for a walk as it’s easy to get cabin fever stuck in such a small space. There was another waterfall walk in the opposite direction, and we thought that at least with the current rain, it should be a little bit more impressive than the other one. It’s a short walk, with some fairly steep sections to reach the falls, which despite the rain, were not particularly impressive.

It was good to get some fresh air, but we were both soaked through by the time we got back to the van and quite happy to get changed and try to dry out our sodden jackets. It was a hot chocolate and additions kind of day. We spent the rest of our time watching some tv, and doing some blog writing as it continued to chuck it down well into the night time.

The next morning it had finally stopped raining and we decided it was time to move on. After packing up, we realised that the campers next to us had left a load of firewood which we claimed as our own, before heading out down the rough, unmade road out of the woods. The plan was to find a walking trail that was in the area where some of the best leaf colours currently were, and we wanted to head further into the mountains.

We didn’t get very far as by the time we pulled out onto a more major road we already had a problem. I glanced across at the engine temperature gauge to realise that it was nearly off the scale and our engine was overheating. Lee quickly pulled over into a nearby driveway and turned it off. Some quick checks revealed that we had an airlock, this made me quite worried as I wasn’t sure how we had managed to get air in the system, and I feared a head gasket problem. For the meantime the main thing was to get the air out. This is not an easy system to bleed, but I have fitted a bleed pipe to make matters a little less unpleasant. There was another new challenge to roadside mechanics and it had paws and had got a taste for the great outdoors. Working out how we could get access to the engine without having an escapee kitten was the first thing to sort. Having blocked access to the back with a big cushion, I went about sorting the problem. Knowing that we were also very low on water, I hope we had enough to top up the system. With the coolant cap off, it became apparent that the bottle had got nearly empty, and I believe it had managed to suck some air into the system from here. At least it wasn’t looking like an engine problem, we just needed to bleed it. After some faffing with buckets, we had hot water coming through. However, I know from past experience that you can bleed the cooling system to death while stationary, but once you drive it is liable to air lock again. I once drove the van from my house to work – a half hour drive which took two hours as I had to stop on 3 separate occasions to bleed the radiator.

Tentatively we set off, monitoring the engine temperature via our OBD app and getting ready to stop if the temperature spiked. Fortunately, it held and we didn’t have to stop again. Slightly behind in time, we continued to drive on. We were planning on going to a laundromat, but it was another lovely day and I wanted to try and enjoy some of it, so we kept going. We were heading to another free campsight in Pisagh forest, right in the middle of the peak leaf colours according to my research. After driving a way down another dirt track, we found a little campsite next to a stream, complete with fire pit. We managed to squeeze Ruby in, as this spot was really meant for tents. Sometimes, having a little van can be good. I do have to give Lee the credit for this cool photo though.

We still had some sun, so decided to walk up the road and pick up a trail to a nearby waterfall. The waterfall was apparently the subject of a photography class, but we managed to get in a couple of photos around their ginormous cameras.

We kept going up the track a short way and got some pretty views from the ridge at the top.

Heading back before we started to lose the light, it was a pretty walk through the trees.

We made up a campfire using our free wood, and barbecued some hot dogs for dinner. We also wrapped up some potatoes in foil and cook ourselves some nice jacket potatoes on the fire.

There was barely any passing traffic until the morning when a whole load of pick ups turned up. I’m still not entirely sure what they were doing, each has several crates in the back in which they have dogs. We didn’t hear any shooting though so we’re not quite sure what they are doing, Lee’s theory is that they’re truffle hunting!

Today, we planned on going on a good long hike. We headed up to the Blue Ridge Parkway and drove to the first overlook. The weather wasn’t the best and while there was a view (and phone signal for the first time) when we arrived, the cloud that came and covered the top of the mountain removed both of these novelties.

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We continued driving to reach the Graveyard Fields, stopping off at another overlook on the way.

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Here you can really appreciate the colours. My camera just does not do them justice.

P1010027We looked at the nearby trails, and decided to do a big loop all around the area. P1010028

The walk starts by crossing over a river and then heading through woodland.

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One section was a bit of a climb up to the high point of the ridge, which probably would have had some great views if it had been a better day.

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The trees were still beautiful though.

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Even in the fog, which in a way just added to the autumnal feel of the place. P1010054

We decided to walk down to the other falls as we were enjoying our walk so much.

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This part of the trail was much busier, clearly the majority of people come to do the standard walk to the waterfall, but don’t bother so much with the longer and steeper trails. I was glad it was a weekday, as I imagine it is rather unpleasant at the weekend.

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Heading back over one of the last bridges to the car park.

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Feeling suitably refreshed from our walk, we headed back to the same spot we had camped the night before. In the morning we planned to head back up to the parkway and drive the other direction into Asheville, where we would definitely need to do some washing.

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