2010 Middle America Tour, Days 8 through 10 Denver to Rocky Mountain National Park0
I know, I know, I’m so behind on my entries. But you must realize, I’m riding 5-7 hours a day, unpacking the gear, setting up camp or checking into a Holiday Inn Express, searching for the best/least offensive meal and dealing with a hot, crabby 8 year old. I do apologize for my tardiness, but there are days I’d rather lay down with a cold brew and watch the latest “Still in Theaters” flick. Haven’t done that yet but, dammit, I’m gonna! And now, to spew forth with our final days in Colorado…
Early morning in Grand Junction, CO, and we (as always) have our faces buried in weather.com. Remember those nasty wind gusts? We’re trying to make sure they don’t come sneaking back to take us down. Evil, evil wind… Packed up, laundry done, and with bellies full of the free toast & peanut butter breakfast at the hotel, we set forth east on Highway 70. Destination? Breckenridge, but that could change. We only had about 160 miles to go, but we may want to burn some extra just to get further out. I knew the stops I wanted to make along the way. My heart was set on Vail. Why? My first memory of even HEARING of Vail was at Comstock Junior High. A toe-headed kid named Andy walked into my geography class sporting a Vail t-shirt. “What’s Vail?” I asked. Andy proceeded to regale me with stories of a small town tucked in a valley surrounded my mountains of snow and skiers making their way through the village, telling tales of the days’ runs down the slopes, sipping hot beverages and waxing their K2’s. I knew someday I wanted to see it for myself. But it’s summer…and there’s barely any snow…but there’s a village and a severe lack of tourists this time of year. I’m in.
Highway 70 through the middle of Colorado is a dream ride as far as highways are concerned. Turning, swaying and loooooong tunnels that echoed just right when you honked the horn. Come on, you know you do it, too. We were literally riding along the bottom of a very, very narrow canyon, surrounded by sheer mountain drops, passing through ski villages boasting mountain bike trails and things you don’t need. But, why is the traffic stopping? WHY? I’m enjoying the ride and this REALLY cuts into my down time! Yup, we were completely stopped smack in the middle of one of those cute little villages. We sat for a bit, sweating too much, eyeing the people splashing in the roadside hotel pool. This sucked. Terry and I both had the same idea and the same moment. The shoulder’s clear and if we don’t get some airflow going soon, his bike will overheat. Yes, boys and girls, we’ve became those assholes on motorcycles who ride the shoulder during stopped traffic. Seriously, it’s no joke about Terry’s motorcycle! We hit the right blinker, scoot over and made our way down the right shoulder, Terry’s flashers on, my head buried in the rearview for signs of a light bar. Man, this was a long line of pissed off drivers! We swerved around road signs, still checking for pork, making our way to the source of said backup. And what were they doing? Oh, spraying down the inside of the tunnel and striping the right lane shoulder. Huh? All that for a line and a clean tunnel? Whatever. I’ve got some time to makeup.
Vail, only a couple of miles ahead. And thanks to Shane for telling us the proper exit. We pulled off the freeway and into a Swedish wonderland. Nestled at the base of a mountainous valley, Vail was a long, narrow world of European style buildings, flower-lined streets and friendly people. It was just as I’d hoped. The main town center was closed to traffic. We parked 1/2 block away and meandered our way town the cobblestone street in search of an outdoor lunch spot and a cold beer. Found it! With a table on the patio at a little German-style place, we sat in awe of the beauty this place held. It really was all that Andy had said, minus the snow. We finished our burgers and brew, took some pictures and geared up, a crowd of people gathering to watch from the sidelines. Always a pleasure. Back on 70, we continued east but started to rethink our destination plan. As much as I wanted to check out Breckenridge, I was afraid that we needed to get some miles in. We’re skipping Breckenridge and heading straight for Denver! Done. Decision made. And, they have a Kimpton hotel in downtown Denver, the Hotel Monaco. Never stayed at a Kimpton joint? I highly recommend the experience. Look them up! It’s worth the extra couple of dollars for a late-day wine reception and European design. But were the Rockies going to be in town? I hope so. I’ll have to look into that one a little later.
With the bellhops scratching their heads at the site of us, we unloaded each bike in front of Hotel Monaco in downtown Denver, just 2 blocks from the 16th Street Promenade. The inside of the hotel boasted a Tim Burton-esque style with a splash, just a splash, of old Europe. It was perfect and the little bit of spoiling we were searching for after so many days on the road with bad weather. And we arrived just in time for the free wine and hors d’vores from 5-6PM. Timing is everything! So, there we stood with the hoitie’s and the toitie’s, sipping wine, reflecting on the past couple of days and looking to swipe a bottle to bring upstairs. We didn’t. Karma.
What I did do was scope out some “Man vs. Food” restaurants in the area. Lo and behold, there was the ‘7-pound breakfast burrito in under an hour’ joint, Jack-n-Grill. Jack and I did our best to get Terry to attempt this eating challenge and Man!, he really thought about it on the ride over in the cab. We pulled up to a very colorful, packed almost full eating joint. It was obvious that this place held a special place in Denver’s heart. It was booming with locals seeking to savor more of what the menu had to offer and tourists hoping to catch a glimpse of the next food challenge sucker. After a scan of the menu, Terry decided against trying the challenge. What?!? You’re here, man! Give it a go!! Why not? Oh please, don’t let a dozen-eggs-per-burrito scare you. Come on! Don’t let a case of the exploding colon’s scare you either! You know what, I don’t blame you. We DID order some of the best Mexican grub we’d ever eaten. It was fresh and flavorful with a side salsa that was just so tasty! No “regular” ingredients were used for this particular flavor. I’m still trying to put my finger on it. I’ll get there, I promise. After our delicious meal, I took a walk around the restaurant to their “Hall of Fame” wall in search of Adam’s picture. Not only did I find his pic, I found about 60 others who had finished the behemoth burrito, including several females of varying age and size. I’m talkin’ SKINNY girls! One other thing this place boasted was that if your name was Jack and you provided a copy of your birth certificate, you will eat free for the rest of your life! Dude, had I known, I’d of packed Mr. J’s and PROUDLY handed it over. “Sorry, son, you’re going to college in Denver. Why? Because your meals are paid for.” Ta da! A stroll down the 16th Street Promenade after was just what we needed after a belly full of tasty grub. It reminded Terry and I both of a smaller, cleaner San Francisco. Because traffic was closed in either direction, with only a shuttle bus running from one end to the other, each block was outfitted with several chess tables, benches and a piano. A piano? Yup! Each piano was painted up in beautiful colors, a different theme for every block. And every piano was singing the song of a different musician. Random people pulled up the bench and played jazz to Mozart, blues to rock. How could you not love such a scene? Dug it.
Our last full day was not going to be complete without one thing – Rockies game! Yes, the Colorado Rockies were in town playing the Milwaukee Brewers and you KNOW we had to take in a major league game while in town. After a day of people watching and Toy Story 3, we geared up in our new Rockies t-shirts and rode the bike taxi to the game. Poor Scott! Scott, our bike dude, had us 3 stuffed in his “cab” and it was a nice, warm night out. Of course, I packed a backpack full of sweatshirts, anticipating the usual Bay Area breeze or roll of fog. Didn’t happen. Wrong city. But the ballpark was really, REALLY nice! Now I see why the A’s are rallying for new digs. Everything was modern, there were no huge ramps to trudge up and the food choices ranged from Mexican to BBQ to usual ballpark fare. I was impressed. So was Jack. We didn’t get any foul balls, but that’s okay. We had a great night at the park and didn’t get even a bit chilly. Next time, I’ll know not to pack for that just-in-case fog roll.
Reluctantly, we packed up the next morning in search of camping in Rocky Mountain National Park. I know, it’s a BEAUTIFUL place to land, but we really enjoyed Denver. Promises to return in the future. I informed Terry that we had to get there via Boulder. ANYONE who’s anyone KNOWS that Mork and Mindy lived in Boulder! Come on! Rainbow suspenders, Shazbot!, getting eggs to fly, Nano nano, Robin Williams whacked out on coke…it’s a classic scene! God, I loved that show as a kid. And now here we were, stuck in traffic in downtown Boulder. Weee. Next!
We began the winding climb through the lower Rockies. Now THIS was a motorcycle road, if only that damn trailer would pull over! Breathe, Sandy, breath…you’re on a trip. Relax, enjoy, take it in. And I did. The view with every turn proved more beautiful than the last. Tahoe-style homes dotted the mountainside every couple of miles. And the smell, you ask? It reminded me of Shasta, but a strong stench of exhaust was beginning to ruin my groove. As much as I’ve always wanted to visit this wondrous place, I had to remember that we didn’t exactly choose the ‘right’ time to visit. Think Yosemite in the summer. Got that mental image? Ya, I was livin’ it. But, I’m here to take it on my terms, collectively our terms, and come away with memories of our own creation. So, away we go!
We went through Estes Park, basically the gateway into RMNP. Damn! It was worse than Sonoma during harvest! The tourists (fat, dude, FAT!) were just going from store to store to store buying crap they didn’t (and probably made in China), meandering along, blah, blah, blah. Not a whole lot of happy looks on the husband’s faces (aka Poor Bastards). Just a lot of lollygagging and sensible shoes, neither of which I subscribe to. Onward. We passed the KOA Park that was perfectly lined with motorhomes and trailers, not a tree in sight but a view of a mountain. Onward. Ah, the entrance to the park in 1 mile. Let’s try for that last minute campsite. We rolled up to the park dude in the little box, handed him our national park membership and asked if there were any state campgrounds that were not full. Hmmmm, nope! All lower campgrounds were full. Okay, Plan B. And what was that? Ride up to each campground and see if they had any cancellations. It was worth a try! No cancellations? Ride around the campground and look for that lone motorcyclist and see if you can “bunk” with them for the night. The worst they can say is no, and I’ve heard the worst. I don’t like it. The first campground we spotted was Moraine Park. The very sweet looking girl in the wooden box peered out from under her ranger hat. I asked, with a hint of desperation, if there by chance was a cancellation. Lo and behold, my fellow adventurers, there WAS a cancellation for 1 night! Timing, people, timing. We originally wanted to stay for 2 nights, but who am I to question the karma bank! And what was the site number? Lucky #13 right by the bathrooms. Not bitching just pointing it out. As the boys set up the campsite, I headed into town to do laundry and find something to cook (singe) for dinner. I’d spotted the laundromat and store earlier on the outskirts of town. Oh thank god, I don’t have to go back to in the vat of tourists! After 1 1/2 hours of domestic duties, I returned to find Jack playing with some other kids and Terry half asleep in the tent. Poor thing, he had just fallen asleep when I rolled up. He did his best to appear alert but instead just looked red eyed and a bit fuzzy. On tonight’s menu? Hot dogs, of course, with salad and fruit on the side. Perfect. I did end up hanging out with a bunch of parent’s and their little squirts that hailed from Ft. Collins, Colorado. A very, very cool group who was more than happy to take me into their conversation. You know how you don’t want to interfere just because your kid is playing with their kids? Tinley was kind enough to widen the circle for me. Thanks! I was able to return the favor the next morning when I heard her husband proclaim, “We used up all the coffee yesterday morning.” They had 2 very young kids that they’d been camping with for a couple of nights, so I KNEW the caffeine desperation level was at red line. Peet’s Ground French Roast from California to the rescue! I gave them the bag and they were very thankful. I totally get the parent/kid/camping thing. If I’d run out of Peet’s, I would’ve cried. See, karma points! We got the site for a night therefore I pay it forward. It’s not hard; it’s just being human.
But before I did the coffee thing, I walked down about 3/4 mile to take some pictures of the mountains. I knew we’d be shoving off today, so I didn’t want to miss taking some shots of the grandeur that enveloped us. If you haven’t been to Rocky Mountain NP, go! But, just don’t go when it’s summer time…think Yosemite. Too many people! That was another reason we decided to stay one night. We weren’t there to be surrounded by people; we were there to be AWAY from people. Enough! I did get some pretty stellar shots in the early morning light. Hey, if I’m already awake at 5:30, I might as well use my time wisely. Back to camp I trod, slowly. See, I realized several years ago while attempting to summit Mt. Shasta that elevation is REALLY not a friend of mine…not at all. I get altitude sickness, and I’d had a headache ever since Denver. NOW I was even closer to the heavens and beginning to feel a bit queasy. Not cool. I had a feeling it might happen, so I had enough forethought to get some Dramamine at the pharmacy in Denver. Aaaahhhh (tapping forehead with finger), thinking this time… After a healthy dose of morning drugs, I began to feel better. Not great, just better. Time to jam. We packed up our gear and gave a high sign to all the Ft. Collins group, with our sights set on McCook, Nebraska. Why there? They had a Holiday Inn Express. AND, we couldn’t go any further because of the weather. And what kind of weather had we not yet encountered? Remember, we are in the Midwest by this point. Guess you’ll just have to find out next entry…neener…
Flee the ordinary tomorrow. It’s good for the head. Trust me. Healthy Head = Healthy Mind = Healthy Family = Healthy Marriage. Everything’s a balance. In every encounter, you are the only one that chooses how you react. Can you learn from it? Can you take a piece of it for future use? I don’t know. It’s your path. I’m working on mine right now. Are you?
“Do one thing every day that scares you.” Eleanor Roosevelt