Last month, I made my first trip to Colorado. It was a place I've been wanting to check off my travel list for a while, and upon arriving in Denver, I got to check off another milestone. PICK UP MY FIRST EVER RENTAL CAR! HELLO, ADULTHOOD! Well, sort of, if that means getting hosed by the fast-talkin' woman who allotted me my vehicle.
I opted for an economy sized car upon initial registration only for the following conversation to ensue:
"Where ya goin' hun?"
"A few places really. Aspen to visit my friend Nathan. Telluride to go to the Bluegrass Festival and meet up with my friend Emma and her friends. And then Boulder to visit my friend Chaz and her husband."
"Oh hun, Telluride's beautiful. Gorgeous. Been to Red Rocks? Gorgeous. Went there last week. Saw a concert. Haled like crazy. Waterfall down the outdoor rock bleachers. But worth it."
"Oh yea. I've heard good things about Red Rocks."
"But Telluride's gorgeous. If there's a heaven, it looks like Telluride. You traveling by yourself, hun?"
"Oh. Well, hun, you can't make it to Telluride in this economy size car. You need at least 6 horsepower to get through those hills on your way there."
"Really? I can't take the (way more affordable) economy sized car?"
"No, you'll be going like 20 miles an hour up those hills. You won't make it. Believe me hun. You'll thank me later. I'll give you the corporate discount. You need that red sports utility vehicle out there. That one. Yep. You have insurance? You'll need this and this and this and this . . . "
And before I knew it, I was holding the keys to a red sports utility vehicle that put more of a hole in my credit card balance than did the round trip ticket to Colorado. But oh well, I was off to Aspen!
The drive to Snowmass, a small town just outside of Aspen, was a beautiful 3.5 hour drive along forest-lined winding roads. I arrived to the warm welcome of Nathan and his family surrounding a game of dice and the communal duo of salsa and tortilla chips. (A little back story: Nathan was part of the Smudge Ink team until he left to work at the Aspen Music Festival). Shortly after introductions, Nathan and his mom showed me around their family’s cattle ranch. Taking in the fields of dandelions, lush greens, and snow-capped mountains in the distance, I fully intended on spotting Maria/Julie Andrews temporarily escaped from her nunnery (a round of Do Re Mi, anyone?). That did not occur, but we did see an elk!
The next morning I was awoken in the best way possible: sunlight shined through the large glass windows as a puppy named Bernie nestled at my feet and a cattle dog named Tinker nudged my dangling hand. After a cup of tea and some home-made yogurt parfait, Nathan and I left to hike Haystack Mountain. No big deal … just a mountain you can climb that happens to be on his family's property. Our packs were stuffed with Kind Bars, PB&J, water, beef jerky, iced tea, Fig Newtons, jalapeño kettle chips, sunscreen, windbreakers; we were prepared! Or at least I thought we were.
We parked at the base of the hike, and beautiful views called us further up Haystack. But soon the Sound of Music musical playing in head morphed into more of a life-or-death adventure novel as the 2,500-foot incline progressed. But I kept my cool, especially after Nathan told me about his uncle being one of the first men to climb to the top of Denali in Alaska in negative 48 degrees. After a few breaks we finally made it to the top! It was breathtaking; I tried taking photos, but nothing could really do justice for what I saw before my very eyes.
We signed a hiking journal to serve as documentation for completion of the hike. Nathan wrote something very poetic in true Nathan fashion. I wrote, "YAY PB&J SANDWICHES!" followed by my name. Needless to say I was hungry.
In the distance we peered out at another mountain, Capitol Peak. Nathan stated longingly that he had yet to climb to the base of it. Feeling emboldened, I persuaded him that we should go for it. We set off, and the trek became snowier as we ascended further. For the icy stretches, Nathan found shards of rock to gouge the frozen snow and create extra friction to keep us from sliding.
We made it to our second hiking destination. To one side of the peak, a gradual rolling hill. To the other, a more than 300-foot vertical drop. In my head, altitude poisoning was setting in. I should have realized it when I tried to take a picture of the precarious vantage point to send to my parents. But alas, the recognition was suspended long after a splitting headache took hold and I began to speak Spanish. Was I drunk?
As if things couldn’t get any goofier, Nathan found a pink aluminum balloon as we descended and carried it along the remainder of the hike. Back at the base, I had never been so happy to sit in a car. Now fooooood.
After our 8-hour hike, we freshened up and zoomed on over to Aspen to see Nathan’s lovely concert pianist friend, Mandy. To my stomach’s good fortune, a delightful dinner of salmon and rice awaited us. Conversation consisted of music lessons, running groups, and agricultural upbringings. The night took us into town where I ran into someone from my hometown (small world run-ins I'll say) and ended with freshly fried mini donuts and a final attempt by Nathan and Mandy to get me to move to Aspen. Side note: I am tempted.
Stay tuned for Part 2: Telluride!