St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands Trip

It was 17 years in the making, but Debbie and I made it to St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands. We were so happy to be joined by our children and Debbie’s mother, Barbara. Many years ago, Debbie noticed an advertisement at the back of AMC Outdoors magazine. It was for an AMC adventure travel trip to Maho Bay Camps in St. John U.S. Virgin Islands. She was most interested in the fact that 70% of St. John is part of Virgin Island National Park.

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Maho Bay Camps shut down before we ever got there, and it took 17 years, but to make this trip better, she got to run the St. John Trail Race! As a bonus, we brought our children with us…and a mother-in-law (Barbara) too. None of that would have been possible in 2001!

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Her research led us to Concordia Eco-Resort, where we spent five excellent nights. We stayed in one of their eco-tents. It was a neat experience that I would definitely do again. The location on the southeast corner of St. John was spectacular. We overlooked Drunk Bay and Salt Pond Bay. The tent platforms were literally built into the hillside, so there were lots of steps to negotiate.

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Staying at Concordia was an effort, but it was well worth that effort. We flew into St. Thomas and rented a Jeep there because all of the rentals on St. John were sold out. It cost us $50 for a round-trip ferry ride from Red Hook to Cruz Bay (and back) and we all rode along with the Jeep. The vehicle, and particularly a rugged off-road vehicle, is a big advantage when staying on St. John. The roads were nuts.

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Most of our time was spent on Centerline Road, North Shore Road, and the route from Coral Bay to the Concordia. All of these roads were insanely steep, windy, and potholed. Factor in the donkeys, goats, chickens, roosters, lizards, deer, cows, and other critters that wander St. John; and you have wild driving conditions. We saw all of these animals in the road at one time or another. The local drivers who know these roads well are another factor. If one gets behind you, they will ride your bumper mercilessly until they have even a slight window of opportunity.

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The double line means nothing. They will come zooming past you and then dart in front of you at the last moment in an attempt to avoid their own head on collision. The numerous hairpin turns add to the excitement. Did I mention that St. Johnians drive on the left side of the road, but with American cars? The last time I had a driving experience like this, I was in Japan, and while Debbie was running UTMF, I ended up having  our car towed away on a flat-bed truck. Thankfully, we survived the driving conditions, which I actually enjoyed, but they did cause some white knuckle moments.

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We had a great time in St. John. In addition to the race, which was the main event, we spent some time at the beaches at  Maho Bay and Salt Pond Bay. We saw a bit of Cruz Bay and Mongoose Junction. A real highlight was our sailing trip on the Poet’s Lounge. We visited desolate Newfound Bay for some snorkeling and got to see the eastern tip of the island from a totally different vantage point. We sort of stumbled into this opportunity. It was a last-minute decision to seek out a charter, but the folks at the Concordia came through. They called a few of their “go to” captains and none had availability. I’m glad they finally checked with Poet’s Lounge captain, Darin Keech and his first mate, Dawn, who had the time to take us out.

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We spent an enjoyable half-day with them. The kids loved the adventure. It was a little “out of comfort zone” experience for us, which is great. I did quite a bit of sailing when I was a kid, with most of that with the Boy Scouts. I sailed at camp and also did a few high adventure trips where we sailed and slept on the boat. This trip brought back some fond memories from those trips.

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It turns out that Darin is from Mystic, Connecticut and that the original Poet’s Lounge is moored on Long Island Sound. He has been doing charters in Connecticut for more than 10 years and recently bought this new boat, a Beneteau 41′ Carib, in Grenada. He brought the new boat to the Virgin Islands and has been chartering out of Coral Bay, offering trips around St. John and throughout the Virgin Islands. We weren’t far from Tortola. I hope to get there next time. I read about an ultra that they are hosting in April called the Tortola Torture. Like everywhere else in the world, trail running and ultrarunning are growing with new events coming all of the time. The Torture has been run twice and has quite a sponsor list.

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Anyway, the sailing trip was cool. We will have to look up Poet’s Lounge this summer when we are in Old Lyme on the Connecticut shoreline. It would be fun to meet up with Derin and Dawn again and sail with them on their other boat. I’m kind of in a sailing mood. Last weekend after returning from the islands, we attended the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour at the Bushnell in Hartford. One of the featured films was Sea Gypsies: The Far Side of the World, a fantastic documentary about a sailing adventure from New Zealand to Chile with a stop in Antarctica. I’m in a bit of a sailing mood and could see myself doing that. I’ll probably start with another charter in the warm waters of the Caribbean before I sign on to sail to Antarctica!

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Staying at the Concordia Eco-Resort was fun and educational. The tent was like a mini cabin and felt like a treehouse. There were two twin beds that we were able to “combine” for Debbie and me. There were two mattresses in a loft. There was a couch that you could sleep on. So, the five of us all had a bed. It was nothing special, but it was functional. We had a little kitchenette with a dorm room sized fridge, a two burner propane range, and a small sink (that couldn’t even fit a plate). There were a few pots, pans, utensils, and dishes. It was nothing special, but we got by. There were no outlets. There were a handful of solar-powered lights. The three solar panels also powered the fridge and the water pump located below the tent platform.

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The “bathroom” had a Clivus Multrum composting toilet, which is the same brand that we have at many of the Appalachian Mountain Club’s facilities, including the White Mountain Huts. Our family has a lot of Clivus experience, including this adventure at AMC’s Noble View Outdoor Center. The shower was a single stall with a garden hose and sprayer nozzle. The water was pumped up to a passive solar rain barrel that was mounted on the roof. The black barrel absorbed the sun’s rays throughout the day and provided a warm shower at the end of the day.

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We had a little deck and the views of the ocean, of the East End (of the island), and neighboring islands, were spectacular. At night, the views of the stars were also phenomenal, and the sound of the waves crashing in Drunk Bay was beautiful. Salt Pond Bay, and its wonderful beach, was a mile from our tent. We went there several times. Past the bay was the Ram Head, which we hiked once with the kids and ran a few times on our own. Our tent also overlooked Nanny Point, which we explored. All of these trails were within the boundaries of the national park.

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We did quite a bit of cooking at the tent. We used some provisions brought from home, and did groceries at a few of the small island stores. Other times, we dined out. It wasn’t easy to get vegan food, but Morgan’s Mango, in Mongoose Junction, was a good spot. That was our best meal, other than the ones we cooked ourselves.

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The weather was spectacular. During the day, it warmed up to the high 80’s Fahrenheit and never dipped below 70 degrees, even in the middle of the night. It rained every night, and sometimes, heavily. The rainwater drained into a large cistern located below the tent platform. Most days, the rain had cleared by mid-morning. A few days, it lingered a bit longer, but we never wore a jacket.

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The central facilities at Concordia included a bar, restaurant, store, pool, laundry, and a pavilion. In the evening, they showed movies at the pavilion, and the kids watched a few times. One night, the bar/restaurant hosted a fantastic open mic and talented musicians from all over the island came to play. It was very entertaining. That was the only time we ate at the “hotel” restaurant.

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