Sunday, August 25, 2013

Colorado, part 2

(Continued from Part 1)

Leaving Rocky Mountain National Park was sad, but it was hard to stay sad as we drove through Estes Park-- the town that borders the park on the east side.


The main street through Estes Park has zillions of shops with every kind of souvenir you could imagine, and although it is strange considering how much I loathe clutter, I do love souvenir shopping.

As we drove through the congested tourist hot-spot, Will called out from the back seat, "STOP THE CAR!"  He had seen some people walking down the road while eating ice cream cones, and informed us that he had to have one.

Will-- who typically doesn't eat food and has refused ice cream, ice cream sandwiches, and sherbet any time we've offered it to him.

Rob miraculously found a place to park in an extremely crowded public lot, and we walked the densely packed streets until we found an ice cream shop.

Out of the 32 flavors that the store boasted, Will chose Bubble Gum, and he wanted a sugar cone dipped in chocolate and coated with sprinkles.

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Check out the cool necklace we got for him in Rocky Mountain National Park.  He picked it out.

As you might imagine, he ate two bites, complained that the ice cream was too cold, and pronounced, with finality, that he was done.

We got back in the car and kept on driving to Boulder, with no particular destination in mind once we got there.

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Boulder was nice.  It was more actually in the mountains than Fort Collins was, and the mountains were greener.  

Will was crying because he wanted a playground, so we found him one.  Then he was happy.

North Boulder Park

North Boulder Park

I kind of loved Boulder, even though it was 90 degrees out and there were no clouds to take the edge off the harshness of the sun.  I started Zillow-ing real estate, and realized that the only way we could ever afford to live in Boulder was if we lived in our car.  This was distressing.

We also had trouble finding a motel/hotel to stay in for the night, which may have been because it appeared to be University of Colorado's move-in weekend.  But finally we found a place (that seemed to be halfway to Denver), and ended up planning out the next couple days of our trip, which we had never managed to do before.

We found a Native Foods CafĂ© in some open air mall type place that reminded me a little too much of the Galleria (and shops across from it) in St. Louis.

As we headed over there, I noticed that the people in Boulder drove kind of stupidly, and it may have just been because I was overheated, unshowered, and a little bit carsick, but Boulder went way, way down on my Places I Want To Move List.

Dinner at Native Foods was pretty nice though.

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Rob, dislocating his jaw to eat his vegan Oklahoma Bacon Cheeseburger, which also came with fried dill pickle chips.

We finally checked in to our way too fancy, way too expensive hotel, and at long last, I got to shower.  It was so nice.

The next morning, Rob got up early and drove back into Boulder so he could run/climb up Green Mountain.  I haven't seen him quite so happy in years.  Or ever.


Boulder's Green Mountain

When Rob got back from his run, we checked out of the hotel and headed over to see a friend/colleague of mine who recently moved to Boulder. She has two kids, one of whom is the same age as Will, and the three littles had a blast playing together.  We all went to a playground for a while and then had lunch at a semi-vegetarian restaurant.

It was great catching up with friends, but by this point, I was not feeling so well.  My head felt like it was splitting in two, my throat hurt, and my nose was stuffed up.  I didn't know if I was just having altitude issues or if I was actually getting sick.  I tried to drink as much water as I could (I knew I was pretty dehydrated) and hoped for the best.

After lunch, Rob, Will and I hit the road again, bound for Leadville.  Why did we choose this bustling mountain metropolis of 2,600 people, situated 2 miles (>10,000 feet) into the sky?

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Leadville is the site of the Leadville Trail 100--the largest and one of the oldest (dating back to 1983) trail 100's in the US.  It is therefore a site of pilgrimage for our people.  But beyond just being a point of interest, the annual race was actually going on that weekend, and we would arrive just in time to see the winners cross the finish line!

As soon as we arrived in Leadville, I thought, This is it, I am home.  I loved it that much.  

Leadville Super 8 Parking Lot

Downtown Leadville

Downtown Leadville

Leadville Trail 100 Run Finish Line

Leadville was once a silver mining town, and the place still has this wild west feel to it.  That and and a thousand ultra runners plus their crews.  Everyone was both chill and extreme.  I'd be curious to see what Leadville is like on a weekend when the nations biggest 100-mile trail race is not taking place.  

We cobbled together some dinner from leftovers and snacks and headed to the finish line to wait, and wait.

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Will passed the time by grabbing my phone and taking pictures.

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We were all very excited.

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The race was neck-and-neck between the two front runners, Ian Sharman and Nick Clark.  Both of them are also competing in the Grand Slam, which involves doing not just this race, but four (4!) of the nation's most prestigious hundred milers throughout an approximately 10 week period over the summer.  This is some major endurance.

At last, we heard the race officials say that Sharman was coming up the hill.  It was amazing to watch the completely raw emotion on his face as he crossed the finish line after having covered 100 miles in just over 16 and a half hours.


Clark struggled late in the race but still looked strong when he (and his son, who ran with him during the final stretch) came in around a half an hour later.


I don't really know Nick Clark, but I did meet him briefly in Nicaragua when he ran (and won) the 100K Fuego y Agua last February.  I actually sat across from him on the plane ride home, but I was too star struck to say anything besides something kind of dumb like, "How did you like the race?" He seemed like a really nice, down to earth guy, and I've been a big fan of him ever since.  Wishing him well as he finishes out the Grand Slam.

I really wanted to stay longer at the finish line, but Will was tired and flat out demanded to be taken back to the motel so he could go to bed.  Highly unusual for him.  The thing about hundreds is that they are very spread out.  The third place guy was probably more than an hour behind, and Scott Jurek (vegan ultra running legend) wouldn't end up finishing until after midnight.  As much as I wanted to stay all night long and watch as other runners trickled in, it was time for all of us to go back to the motel and get some sleep.

The next morning I got up early and headed out into the cold to run (Rob got Boulder, I got Leadville).  I had looked on the map and found a footpath (paved, but at least it was asphalt instead of concrete) called the Mineral Belt Trail that looped right by our motel.  It was beautiful.  

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Running at 10,000 feet didn't really seem to bother me at all.  I took it easy and managed to go 5.6 miles.  I felt like I could have kept running forever, but we needed to check out of the hotel and get ready for a long day of driving ahead of us.

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I didn't really want to leave Leadville, and in fact I would like to move there for good.  I wonder if they need any doulas?

On our way back through the mountains, we stopped in Georgetown to take a ride on the Georgetown Loop Railroad-- a working old-timey steam engine.  William is still completely obsessed with trains, and because so much of the trip had been about doing what Rob and Melissa wanted, we thought it was only fair to do something that was 100% for Will's enjoyment.

Georgetown Loop Railroad

Georgetown Loop Railroad

Georgetown Loop Railroad

Georgetown Loop Railroad

Georgetown Loop Railroad

Georgetown Loop Railroad


Will was mainly very silent on the train, and I'm not sure if that meant he was so overwhelmed with joy that he couldn't speak, or he wasn't paying attention.  In case of the latter, we tried to just take a lot of pictures so he could remember it someday if he wanted to.

We drove east for the rest of the day, and as we descended out of Denver, my ears filled up with fluid and I could barely hear anything.  It was actually kind of painful, and it lasted that way for about 24 hours--well beyond the mountains.

On the drive back, we learned a couple of things.

First: the border town between Kansas and Colorado is named Kansorado.  Not kidding, couldn't make this up.

Also: there is nothing between Denver and Kansas City.  As in, billboards would advertise steak houses that were 150 miles away.  Because that was the closest thing.

We took two days to make the trip back, and as we descended into the gridlock of traffic on I-64, I couldn't help but start bawling.  During the trip, people we met would ask us where we were from, and we never said we were from St. Louis.  We'd say, we're living in St. Louis, which is different than being from here.  We'll never be from here.  No matter how long we live in this place, I doubt it will ever be home.

One thing I'm starting to wonder though, is if it might actually be the gateway to the west for us?

Call me if you need a doula, Leadville.

Thanks for reading.

Colorado, part 1

Colorado has never really been on my radar, at least until the last several months, when it suddenly seems like everyone I know has either recently gotten a job there or taken a vacation there.

We were originally planning on going to the Grand Canyon and visiting our friends K and D (surprise!) in New Mexico this summer, but too much life and work got in the way and we realized we didn't have time for that.  Instead we decided to go to Colorado (it seems the thing to do) and camp in Rocky Mountain National Park.  There were a few cities we wanted to visit too, but the trip was largely unplanned, and that was a bit frustrating for me at times, since I really thrive on plans.

Gearing up for the big trip, we celebrated Will's birthday a little bit early:



And then we went to Illinois to run the Howl.

Afterwards, I was feeling kind of rough:


The next day drove to Peoria, which wasn't really on the way, but we got a chance to see my family and celebrate Will's birthday (and mine) with them.  

More cupcakes


Then we left for an epic drive west.   We spread the trip out over 2 days but did the bulk of driving on the first.  Will did really well, even though Iowa and Nebraska are hell of boring.

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Will's actual birthday lunch: rice and beans and apple juice at Chipotle in some random town.

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This was about the most exciting thing we saw for the first 13 hours of the trip.

Once we arrived in Colorado, our first stop was Fort Collins.  I have been somewhat obsessed with Fort Collins ever since I read a newspaper article proposing that it might be the happiest place on earth (and other corroborating evidence suggesting excessive happiness in Fort Collins).  

Fort Collins

We ate lunch at a vegetarian restaurant near the Colorado State University campus called the Rainbow Restaurant.  It was so good that we thought we might move to Fort Collins just for that.  They had a children's menu, and for the first time in his life, Will selected something from it (a grilled cheese with a side of vegetables), and actually ate some of it.  

I want grilled cheese

Fort Collins did seem to be a fairly happy place.  Everybody was nice and lots of people were riding bikes.  It reminded me of Champaign-Urbana, except in the mountains, and with no humidity to shield you from the blazing sun and dizzyingly oppressive heat.  

I could have spent the rest of the trip just driving around Fort Collins looking at real estate, but we had other places to go.  We headed on to Horsetooth Resevoir, just outside of the city.  We camped there overnight.  I felt like Horsetooth was the cleanest place we'd ever camped, and I don't just mean lack of trash.  Something about the dryness and absence of humidity just made everything seem crisp and scoured.  It got chilly at night, and that was a welcome relief to 90 degrees at ~5400 ft elevation.


We hiked down a little path from our campsite to the reservoir, and Will wanted to get in the water.

Wizard sticks

Short hike


Horsetooth Reservoir


We made pasta on the camp stove, and I finally got to enjoy the home-brewed apricot beer that our friend Eric gave me at Howl.  Best beer ever!  Thanks, Eric!

Eric's Beer

The next morning we hiked to Horsetooth Falls.  The hike was very pretty, and manageable enough for a newly 4-year old, but the falls themselves were not so impressive.  Didn't matter.  It's about the journey.

Horsetooth Falls Trail



Horsetooth Falls Trail

Horsetooth Falls

When we left the Fort Collins area and headed on towards Rocky Mountain National Park, I was feeling a bit bewildered.  We hadn't seen many of the things that are supposed to make Fort Collins the happiest place on earth, and although the surrounding mountains were rugged and beautiful, there seemed to be a certain sadness behind them.  The mountains I'm more accustomed to are the Smoky Mountains (green!), the mountains of the Pacific Northwest (green! gray! blue! snow-capped!), and volcanic islands like Ometepe (greenest green!).  The Rockies, obviously, are rocky.  Brown and red.  Scrubby.  It seemed like the kind of landscape where tumbleweeds would blow through and you might find scorpions, rattlesnakes, and tarantulas underfoot.  These mountains were nice but made me feel kind of lonely.  I needed more green.  I wasn't sure that I loved them.  And I had really expected to love them.

Things began to turn around as we got closer and closer to Rocky Mountain National Park (thank goodness for the sea-bands, which kept me from throwing up).  In fact, as soon as we entered the park, we were completely wow-ed by this view:

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Melissa taking a picture of Rob taking a picture of the Rockies.

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Here's a less obstructed view


We drove all the way west across the park (some 40 miles) to Timber Creek Campground.  We hadn't necessarily planned on staying there (actually, we hadn't planned anything)-- it was just listed as one of the few campgrounds that still had spaces left.  Decision made.

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The drive over to Timber Creek helped solidify the magnificence of these mountains.  And there was green.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park

Fall River Road

Rocky Mountain National Park

I loved the Timber Creek campground.  It was at 8900 ft, it was windy, and at night it got cold.  Part of the difficulty of this trip is that we had to pack for about a 40-degree range of temperature variation (plus we still had all the gear and stuff we needed to run Howl).  I had packed a bunch of warm clothes for myself, but even with everything piled on, I was freezing that night when the temperature got down to the low 40's.  I was miserable-- a teeth chattering, shivering mess.  I have a  weird lack of circulation problem in my left foot, and it felt like a block of ice.  Will climbed in my sleeping bag with me for a while to cuddle with me and keep me warm.  Sweetie.  

Timber Creek Campground

I survived the night and as the sun came up the next morning, things were a little better.  

Also, it was my birthday.

Rob left early to go for a run (his first since Howl) and saw some moose grazing in the campground.

Camping with moose

He also saw some elk grazing along the road.


Will and I meanwhile enjoyed breakfast.  It was still quite cold out, so Will requested that I wrap him up in a blanket and carry him out to the picnic table so he could eat.

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Thanks for the blanket, Auntie.

While Rob was running, he investigated the Colorado River Trail and thought it would be good for a family hike.   

Rocky Mountain National Park

Will was much less interested in hiking than we were, but we made it work.  Largely through use of the Kelty backpack, which must weigh at least 50 pounds when Will is riding in it.  I can't even lift the thing, much less wear it on my back, so Rob was the one who had to shoulder that burden.

Colorado River

Colorado River

Colorado River

Colorado River

Colorado River

Colorado River

It was now Wednesday afternoon, and I hadn't showered since Monday morning (no showers at the campgrounds).  A shower would have been really nice after that hike (it was getting pretty warm), but I tried to just make the best of it.

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My hair is never this flat in St. Louis.

In the afternoon we drove down to Grand Lakes and investigated that area--including a bit more hiking at Adams Falls.

Grand lake

Adams Falls

Adams Falls

That night I put all my warm clothes back on (kind of dirty at this point, but want can you do), and was determined not to be freezing cold.  I was still pretty cold.  But I survived.

The next morning, it was my turn to run.  This made me deliriously happy, and I don't think I was just delirious because of
 the altitude.  I ran back to the Colorado River Trail, expecting to feel out of breath from the thin air, but really, I felt fine.  Early in the morning, I was the only person on the trail.  That was amazing but kind of freaked me out a bit because I wasn't exactly sure what to do if I met a bear.  I hoped I didn't have to find out.

Luckily, the only wildlife I saw while running along the trail was 2 amazing elk.  They were less than 10 meters away from the trail, and when I came upon them I just stopped and watched them for about 10 minutes.  They seemed kind of scared of me at first, but we just looked at each other for a while, and eventually they went back to foraging.

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We packed up to leave the park after I got back from my ~4 mile run, and although I was really eager to find some place to shower, I was sad to be leaving the park.

We stopped at the Alpine Visitor Center on our way back east, and we did some souvenir shopping and hiking/sightseeing around there.

Alpine Visitor Center



Alpine Visitor Center


View of our campsite from Trail Ridge Road.

Forest Canyon

Lava Cliffs



 Stay tuned for Part 2.