It was a chaotic morning. I had planned to leave at 10am to go pick up Brian from his friends house and start our journey across the mid west to Colorado. Classically I over book myself and under estimate how much I have to do before I leave so around 12 pm in the afternoon I showed up, still without groceries. I do this to myself every time to go back to Canada but usually never to anyone, I felt so bad too because I hadn’t seen him in years. Woops. Going back in time we hung out in my first year of University for a few months. Since then I saw him maybe twice randomly on campus when visiting other friends and there was the very occasional hello message over the course of 4 years. Somewhere in between all of that Brian had messaged me asking for recommendations on where to go camping, and I guess I had mentioned I was trying to do a cross-country road trip, I invited him along as a joke. I am a ‘yes man’ person so I am never actually joking, I just always assume no one will ever take my proposals seriously, well it turns out he was a ‘yes man’ too so here we are months later about to be stuck in a car together when we really don’t know each other at all. This seems to be a popular theme throughout my life.
So here we are now putting all his belonging into my home on wheels. Anyways as one would expect when I showed up it felt weird to see him again in person, I didn’t know what to say so I threw everything in my car and saved the catching up for the following 23 hours of straight driving across the prairies. Luckily he is easy going, fun and talkative so it made for an easy transition and good start to our road trip west. Finally after everything was bought and packed, at 12:30 we were headed on a 23 hour driving expedition to Colorado, with no idea how far we would make it tonight or where we would sleep.
Even through the most boring parts of the United States the drive was anything but ordinary. We had the music bumping, feet hanging out the window, singing the words to every song from rock, to country to 90s hits living without a care in the world. It was almost to perfect to be true. We only stopped occasional for gas and of course for a restaurant which claimed it had mile high pies, because we had to see what that might look like, loads of lies out in these parts of town, I wouldn’t buy false advertising. It is an amazing feel to drive with no agenda, no destination, it feels like a great escape. As we passed by Kansas City I was crashing hard. Thanks to my awesome co-pilot ad his on point song choice of cyclone, brought us through for another hours worth of driving. Who doesn’t get down to that song though? Around 2 am we got to tired and decided to start looking for a place to crash. After 2 exits we finally just drove off a small dirt road a couple hundred meters, no cover from trees out here, threw up the tent and crashed for a couple hours beside a farms field right on his driveway.
After a night of paranoid sleep I woke up with the sun at 5:30 am and we decided to get a good start to the day and hit the road, make some miles up for my tardiness the previous morning. As we were filling up at the gas station I could not get over how the red sun hung in the sky, so big and bright, so many colours and not a clouds in sight. I also could not get over the low tire pressure in one of my wheels. Not thinking to much more about it I just filled it up and proceeded to drive a full day on it. The second day proceeded like the first, good music, quality karaoke and a hurting jaw from none stop laughing. I finally understood just what people were talking about when they exclaimed Kansas was flat like nothing else you had ever seen before. We watched a train with what must had been hundreds of carts behind it go on forever into the horizon. We pulled off at roads that were perfectly straight until what looked like the edge of the earth. Out here your eyes are clinging to anything just to try and see something, to try and get some sort of depth perfection, but there is nothing, not real towns, just the occasional tractor and mill.
When we crossed the state line into Colorado I had foolishly expected the mountain to pop out of nowhere. It took them another couple hours to slowly appear in the horizon and in that time we got a small taste of the cowboys and old western life style I had no idea still existed, and especially here. We pulled up to a tiny dust bowl gas station and where the only ones not in cowboy boots with the whole get up. We were definitely out of place but we were slightly slaphappy drunk of tiredness so we paid no attention to it but decided that bubbles were good purchases. There was a horrid stench at the gas station, and the sky seemed a little bit yellow. After driving down the road a ways we discovered what the perpetrator was. Like in the documentaries you see there was a giant cow farm. They had tired to cover it up but as we drove past slowly we caught a short glimpse at the hundreds of cows shoved into a tiny little area, no patch of grass to be seen anywhere, it was horrendous, I couldn’t believe what I just saw.
We passed through one small town on our way to Great Sand Dunes National Park, and it was exciting to finally have something slowing coming forward in the horizon. When we did reach the mountains is was even more unreal to then see a giant sand dune pop out of no where as well. We reached the visitors center just before closing to get the information for the following day. By this time my tire was significantly lower, and thankfully they had an air station, a problem for tomorrow Taylor. We went to the nearest camp ground just outside the park, which we had to pay for both the spot and firewood much to our dismay, and watched the sun set over the dunes and mountains on the right and plains on the left.
I woke up with Brian’s stinky feet in my face (I only brought a one person tent) and the morning sun beginning to rise and shine on our tent. It was beautiful in the brief moment where is rested on top of the dunes and mountains. I got breakfast ready, as it was clear on day 3 that he was not a morning person, and we slowly got ready for todays adventure. We packed down the car, rented sand boards and took off for the hills. I have been on sand dunes before so I should have known not to wear sandals, because it absorbs the heat from the sun and will burn your feet like a beach on steroids, as it did to mine on this particularly blazing hot day. After our first attempt at riding down the dune and walking back up we couldn’t believe just how out of shape we felt trying to summit a small hill of sand. It was exhausting, like were we even athletes at some point in our lives? At failing many times riding down, and juts wandering through the sand without a path or destination in mind, we decided not to kill ourselves anymore and headed down to the bottom by a stream to cool off. It is so odd that just besides all this burning hot sand, between the dunes and the mountains, there is a frigid cold stream running by, creating beautiful patterns of dark sand with is flow.
We found our own little private beach hidden away from everyone else and laid out of a while, enjoying the day before freezing our feet nearly off, walking back to the car through the stream. My car’s tire was now nearly deflated, but thankfully there was someone in the only tiny town close who could fix it. We dropped my car off at 3, because everything closes at 5 in this town, and went to explore the city. There wasn’t much going on in this dust bowl but Mexican food and man did they make it good. I have no idea if it was because we were famished or if it was because lots of Mexican’s seemed to be living in this town, but damn it might have been the best fajitas I have ever had.
They ended up giving me an old tire with decently good tread for only $27! How does that even cover labour costs? We had browse through their town’s tourist office, looking at brochures of everything close by, and between my pre planning and our new finds we had an idea of where we would like to end up tonight, and if not tonight at least tomorrow. So we headed off in that direction happy from saving tire costs and care free of time and life’s worries. We drove for a while through the mountains and forest, which was so magical to see after days of nothing, until night was starting to hit. We hadn’t made it to our destination but decided to pull off on the side of the road a few times and check how the camping was down by the raging river we had been following. Finally we found one, if was perfect, which appeared people had camped at already, and called it home for the night. We unloaded the car and as I set up our tent and belongings Briand went about gathering things for a fire. We had just eaten so much for dinner that we only used the fire for warmth, light in order to play Rummy and s’mores roasting.
I have learned the key to getting Brian out of bed in the morning. The day before we had gone shopping for supplies and had bought instant coffee. So as I get up with the sun every morning when camping, I started boiling water right away. If there is anything I have learned from living with roommates all through college is identify who is a coffee drinker and give them their morning coffee a.s.a.p. before shit hits the fan. So I set it outside the tent, a little hand reaches for it, disappears for a while, and then magically a smiling human eventually emerges! Magic. This morning he emerged on a caffeine high and slap happy in a sleeping bag and started hopping around like a penguin.
We started the fire for breakfast, using our left overs to make the best campfire food ever. We found pre-cooked bacon in the grocery store, mix that in with wraps, eggs and fajita mix and you just found yourself the best camp side breakfast burrito. We have gotten into a routine quickly, which I think is cool as neither of us spoke up or designated activities, they just fell into place that he started the fire in the morning while I packed down the tent and prepped the food. After just a couple days we were surprisingly a well-oiled machine.
The goal for today was to make it to Ice Lake, somewhere we arbitrarily picked off Google that fit into a seemingly good route for touring around Colorado. We stopped in the adorable town right before ice lake, filling up our water, stealing a bit of wifi, then continued on our way, turning off onto our first real dirt road adventure into a giant green valley. It was not an incredibly long hike, but it wasn’t a short one either. The toughest part was that we gained a lot of elevation fast, making our way up to 12,000ft (3,657m) where we stopped and camped for the night.
The hike started in the woods, passing over rushing streams, carefully tip toes across wet logs hoping not to slip. We were let out into a field of what we called cabbage as we climbed higher and higher back into a different type of forest. It felt amazing, freeing to hike, it felt like I was at home, but Brain was giving me shit saying he couldn’t keep up with me. We are both from sea level, but I had forgotten that I do not feel the effect of altitude as harshly as many people do, and we hadn’t given him any real length of time to acclimatize. So in that case this hike was going to be a hard one and tonight wouldn’t be the most fun for him. Sorry Brian. After we summited a plateau we decided to wander around a look for a campsite here because the views were just breath taking. There was a little bit of snow still lingering in the shadows, moose antler scratches all through the bark of the trees and an outstanding cleared area with the view of the valley below before us. It had to have been my favourite campsite the whole 2 weeks. I set up camp and our hammocks while Brian started the fire. Tonight’s menu was dehydrated camping meals and altitude sickness makes you loose your appetite so Brian had to force-feed himself and hit the bed early.
We started our day watching the sun slowly peak through the valley over lack luster oatmeal. Our hammock was set up in the perfect position as we curled up to stay warm and watch the breath taking sight. We were in no rush because we completed more than half of the distance yesterday, so we took our time and thankfully Brian was feeling better this morning after a night sleeping at altitude but still not great so I carried the bag most of the day. It was a quick walk to ice lake, we were closer than we had originally thought, but the main glacier lake we had come for was still higher yet. It was a beautiful, warm sunny day so we took our shoes off are walked through the glacier cold river, exploring around the plateau which was just emerging into spring.
We were going to try for the second lake as I did have one pair of crampons in my bag, but after watching many people attempt at it, seeing them struggle, give up or fall we opted not to and enjoy the day. We ate lunch at a, wandered back to camp to relax and instead of staying a second night on the ledge we went back down, and I noticed him getting better and better the further we descended. We found a dispersed camping area in the valley and called it home for the night. It was situated right beside the river, looking out at the mountain we had just climbed, and we couldn’t have been more happy. As I brought stuff back and forth from the car I had to pass by an older couples campsite a couple times. Finally after a while I stopped to say hi in which they offered us the rest of their cheesecake! Score! Brian’s fishing wasn’t super successful so bringing this cheesecake back for dessert to go along with our wine really made the night after eating flavoured rice with chickpeas and Mexican veggies for dinner. As the mountains were not encroaching as close tonight we gave it another try at finding all the constellations on my map.
I tried to wash our clothes as early as possible so they wouldn’t take forever to dry. Well it worked for some of them, however most of our clothes we ended up either laying on the dash or tying to a string and hanging them out the window while we drove that day. When we stopped at a few scenic overlooks that day we had many people looking at us and taking pictures of our car with all the laundry hanging from it.
We passed through an even cuter town than before called Bedford, and although we were trying to save money eating cheap and cooking for ourselves, you cannot say no to a Bison burger and Elk sausages. In the last town we found a brochure for Black Canyon and we threw it into our schedule. It was really out in the middle of nowhere, as we passed giant ranches and arid land. It seemed like we were driving no where for forever until we finally came upon the park sign. We got in just after mid day and all the hiking permits were sold out, so we just wandered on the canyon ledge trails exploring at every pull off. The views were outstanding and ever changing, the river making none stop curvy bends and pictures were popping out of the rock wall with all of its lines and colours. It is actually quite a fun game to play.
We grabbed a campsite in the park for the night, at black Canyon National Park is designated as a dark spot in America, meaning the best starry night show. When setting up camp we were not aware that you could not take wood from the surrounding for a fire, so the rangers gave us shit, but followed up nicely with a few free logs. Good thing they didn’t see all the long grass Brian cut down and shoved under our tent for padding. With everything set up we headed for one of the last lookouts again, bottle of wine in hand and ready for an amazing sunset. We were definitely not disappointed. The colours changed so spectacularly ever second, after a while I had to remind myself to stop taking pictures and just hangout together in the moment and enjoy the view and company. A good reminder for all us millennials every once and a while.
As we drove today we actually had no idea of where we would end up. Due to us coming at the beginning of hiking season many trails were till closed because of snow. So as we drove we called local visitors centers of hikes we had in mind, many of them saying it was a no go, but thankfully one gave us some good alternatives. Thankfully we have a car and all the freedom anyone could want so when we saw a BBQ sign on the side of the road, we gave up the idea of Aspen for the day and focused on good ribs.
Way back in the bush there was a tiny town called Marble and one big wooden restaurant, which looked like the whole town was at. We grabbed a seat on the patio, took in the view of the green mountains and the smell of the giant outdoor smokers. They claimed to fame for their BBQ so we tried a mixed platter along side a couple ginger beers and by the end we were full, happy and a little drunk. For a while we just drank on the entrance steps like everyone else seemed to casually be doing, talking about everything and anything, before we decided hiking was our of the question today so why not go and enjoy the local lake.
Beaver lake was just around the corner, and thank goodness I always have the essential of a hammock, floaty and sled stashed away in my car because we actually got to blow up the inner tube and swim around of a while. I t was freezing so we didn’t last long, ultimately we ended up curling up and passing out on the beach for a while. After packing up we were still in a very lazy mood and did not have the gumption to make it to the area for the next hike recommended to us over the phone by the workers at the visitors center. We pull off to the side of the road, after many private property signs and fences, to a little cropping of trees by a river we called home for the night. We cooked up some mac and cheese, threw in the left overs from our BBQ dinner and called it a night.
I was up and about early as per usual, but the coffee didn’t work this morning, so our day got off to a slower start than usual but we made it to Thomas Lakes trail head eventually. It wasn’t going to be a long or hard hike but a rewarding one with lots of great views, so a win-win situation. We passed by the first green lake, and not to longer rounded the corner to a beautifully bright blue glacier lake. We stepped off the path to the far side of the lake, looking for the ideal place to eat lunch. After gaining some courage we made the quickest dip ever into the icy cold water. We explored around the glacier, Brian looked for fish to catch, I picked lots of wild flowers, and then we headed onwards to where we would start another hike tomorrow. At a gas station on the way the guy ended up giving us free food because he was closing soon, and then tried to convince us to stay after hours and do tequila shots with him. No thanks bud but can we have those free shots to go? At the base of the bumpy dirt road which lead to the Capitol Hill hike we found a dirt parking lot and pulled up beside a camper which looked like it hadn’t moved in years. Well in fact it hadn’t. Brian made friends with the lone man named Jim inside who lives in the dirt parking lot and said it was ok for us to pick up our tent back in the small grouping of trees.
It was a long hike ahead of us, and a hard one a well with lots of elevation gain, so we got off to a nice early start. Jim had told us the wrong direction to start our hike in so after a 30 min detour we were back in the parking lot, now joined by a group of cowboys. They were a little intimidating but funny looking all lined up on their trailer filled with horses but they knew which way the trailhead was. Turns out we had about a 2 mile walk to the start of the trail head before it even began. It started out as a down hill, which was a nice break for the legs. It went through fields of wild flowers at a steep incline to a river in the valley. Not to much longer after crossing the water we were on a slow but steady walk uphill the reminder of the day. We stopped occasionally to fill up our water bottles in the stream and take in the views, it was majestic and nothing short of stunning. We passed through wooded forests, open fields of grass and one filled with so many dandelions it turned yellow, it was a place form a dream, somewhere you want to frolic through and fall down among the flowers.
This whole time we were wondering where the glacier lake was that we were trying to reach by means of following the map. We had reached the end of the gorgeous valley to a u-shaped wall of mountains. It seemed like a dead end but then we noticed crampon footprints headed up the steep mountainside. I had my pair with me so we decided to follow suit and strap up for the challenge. I can not confidently say it was a good idea, as we fell through the snow many times, slid down the side, had crampons fall off because we didn’t know how to even tie them on properly, but we made it and that’s all that matters. After climbing slowly up this mountain side we reached the edge, where we stood in the snow and looked over the trail we had just walked all morning. So surreal. But we turned around and followed the stream thinking that this must be where the lake is. I have no idea where we went wrong on the map but we found no lake or glacier, instead just another beautiful, snow filled plateau in the base of very jagged rocky mountains. I was in love, but Brian was feeling sick again, so after a while we headed back down, which was much harder than coming up as we fell many times on the steep snowy mountain side.
The were 2 different routes we could take back to the campsite so we kept to the other side of the river this time, at higher ground, having fantastic vantage points the whole walk back. When we reached the last forest it had an enchanting feel as the trees were strictly birch trees. The forest was white and shone brilliantly with the streaks of sun shining in between the leaves. If it wasn’t for the horrible mosquito attack it would have enjoyed this portion much more. We didn’t even get the chance to grab out the spray because every time we tried to stop and take it out we gotten eaten alive. So instead we put our heads down, arms whaling and hurried as fast as we could back to the car. We were exhausted so first thing first, nap. Secondly, after we woke up, we made a shower out of a water jug Brian had brought, we hug it off a trees and washed up out in the wild. It felt great to have already set up, start a fire, and stay the same place for 2 nights in a row, the only time we would do this the whole trip.
Today was a day that was dedicated solely to driving. After being woken up by cows surrounding our tent and a little morning fun we headed and NE toward Rocky Mountain National Park. We had a long day but thankfully I was driving with the right person and we made it fly by. There is not a dull moment when you are traveling with Brian. We belted 90s classics, he knew a surprising amount of lyrics to the backstreet boys, and gave me a topless carwash that normally guys would dream of receiving from women, but I was the lucky customer!
We arrived at the Rocky Mountain NP’s western visitors center to pick up our camping passes, maps, and then headed into the town of Grand Lake to buy our mandatory bear canister. Stealing some wifi from our lunch stop we purchased a last minutes campsite just outside of Estes Park so we were close to the start of our hike the following day. However in order to get to Estes Park, which was on the east side, you had to take trail ridge road, which cut through the park and was the highest altitude reaching road in all of the united states. This meant that my engine was working over time as we climbed what seemed like forever up hill, and when we turned after the view point to go back down my breaks along with everyone else’s were smoking up a little bit. The drive was phenomenal though and totally worth it with the combination of views and wild elk through the park. I think this was the first night we didn’t make a fire, because we did not want to pay for it. Instead we packed food for the 3 days ahead of hiking ahead of us and went to bed early.
Today, at 5:30am. I actually woke up to an alarm instead of the sun, but I was so thankful for it because the sunrise was unreal. The sky was on fire, vibrant pinks, oranges, yellows and reds. I was so excited and freaking out, trying to get Brian up to see it, but the sleepy head hadn’t had his morning coffee yet so he stayed in the tent. Todays breakfast menu was pancakes, maple syrup, bacon, eggs and corn bread, carb loading for a long days hike. We were told that Bear Creek parking lot fills up fast, and we only had a parking permit for that location, so we tried to beat the crowds by entering the National Park at 6:30m and arriving at Bear Creek trail head parking lot at 7am. We most definitely beat the rush as less than half the parking lot was filled, but still more than I expected at this hour, so we took our time making sure we had everything packed before heading out for 3 days on the trail.
We looked a little silly beside everyone else in the park, Bear lake and a few other were in close range to just bring a water bottle, but here we were with giant packs on our back standing out like a sore thumb. We originally wanted to walk around Bear Lake and the other close lakes, but once we arrived they where no where near as beautiful as the ones we had seen previously this week. So instead we started hiking towards Sky Pond, the real attraction of the day.
Our route went from Bear Lake connecting us to Alberta Falls then onwards to Sky Pond. The falls were raging, and it was nice to escape the crowds and just be among occasionally a few other hikers. From Sky Pond were we would then be back tracking a little bit to Boulder Brook our campsite for the night, in total it would add up to a 11 mile day. On our way to Sky Pond we took a break at the lower lake named Lock 2 before the clouds started rolling in and made us a bit faster. Thankfully it was a false alarm but that just meant, after climbing the waterfall and trudging through the snow, we got to spend more time at this scenic spot. We ate our lunch laying in the sun, watching a blow up boat paddle around the glacier blue lake before heading to our campsite for the night. After a pause to take a try at fishing for dinner, we veered off the popular trail to head to our campsite and said goodbye to everyone else, we were all alone again, not seeing anyone until the following day.
Our campsite was very remote, and a bit eerie, as it appeared an avalanche had come through not to far away, wiping out everything in its path. We go there earlier than we had planned, so we set up camp and took a nap while the rain came through. Dinner was simple in comparison to the other nights only consisting of dehydrated hiking food before we walked far away, slightly paranoid of meeting a grisly, to hide our bear food bin. I have camped in black bear country, which is only an issue if you have food around, but I was a little uneasy the whole not because Grisly bears are a different bread, they will hurt you just because you are there. It took me a while to stop listening to every noise but eventually I did finally fall asleep.
Rise and shine to a blanket of white. We couldn’t see a single thing as we stepped out of the tent into the fog. It was still a beautiful morning walk it it’s own way. The trees looked enchanting with the fog hanging in their branches, making you guess what was around every corner. Finally after walking upwards for a while we broke out of the clouds to a bright blue sky. Off in the distance it looked as if we were looking at an never ending ocean of white fluffy clouds, and we were just standing on a small island in the middle of it all. It was nice and warm until we mounted the ridge and got a face full of wind strong enough to push me off balance. It was pretty barren up here, just piles of rocks to climb and sit on along side gophers, a few snowballs to throw, but around the corner was the second big draw for our hike.
Chasm Lake was supposed to be the most jaw dropping site on or 3-day venture. so after staring at just the waterfall and lower lake forever, we followed the tiny, rocky mountain side path towards the water and greenery which stood so starkly out against the snow and grey rock. Once we reached this location we realized this in fact was not Chasm Lake, it was up and around another bend, so we continued on to a scene you’d think just pop out of a National Geographic film from the Patagonia’s. This was the largest mountain supposedly in Rocky Mountain National park, so to take in all its grandeur properly we wasted about 2 hours in total and took a nap lakeside.
After being at altitude for so long we were both starting to get a bit light headed this time, so we wandered back down to our next campsite. The clouds had broken and lit a beautiful trail through the woods for us. From a far off campsite the music from Spice Girls got us through a potion of the hike, although it was quite enjoyable as it was either downhill or flat more the later half of the day. This campsite had a toilet near by which was nice, but the best part was that it was compostable and you could see someone pooping as there were no doors. There was a beautiful path of grassland just beside out campsite so we took our dinner, sat on a log and enjoyed the night before passing out due to exhaustion.
I started the day off with making Brian his morning coffee to coax him out of bed happily and start our hike out. It was a pretty path through the forest downhill and we were enjoying it, until we realized we would spend the second half of the hike walking uphill. So we began to devise our cheating plan. It was just a joke at first, until we got really detailed, and then both convinced each other we didn’t need to finish the last shitty part of the hike to feel we did it, cheating was more than ok. After passing a few groups riding horses through the park we found a exit point and took it. We were let out at the highway, halfway down the hill. After trying to hitch hike for a while someone directed us just a few hundred meters further to the free park buses and we grabbed a ride back to our car, stinking up the whole place for all the fresh new hikers. What a great decision. We skipped the hardest part, got to the car at 11am to enjoy lunch, we avoided days before the crazy rush we were now witnessed, and would get to Denver in good time to enjoy the day. Baller.
Estes Park is a popular tourist destination just outside of Rocky Mountain NP. We had intended to stop for lunch but it was so packed, we could not find a parking spot anywhere, so in frustration we left and instead stopped on our way out of town at a pie shop, because who doesn’t want delicious pie after coming out of the woods. It was a quit an easy drive to Denver and we got there an hour early for our Air BnB check in, so we took the time to organize the chaos in my car and prep it for the next 2 nights as well as Brian’s flight home. The weather was perfect and it was our last night on this stretch of the trip together, so we dressed like normal humans and hit the town. We wandered our way downtown ending up at the coolest bar filled with tons of people probably ages 25-28, all playing corn hole and dressed in 90s costumes, the place was popping. From there we headed across the street to a roof top bar for some food and dancing before closing out the night. It was early when we headed home, I guess the camping routine really got to us.
I slept in till 7am for a change, only to wake up to the sad realization that this would soon all be over. We made a baller breakfast, did laundry and hungout a little to fill the time before we packed everything in my car and headed to the airport. For once on this trip we actually did not say much this morning, I was happy but I didn’t really know what to say, it was a weird state as it was actually only over for him, I would be continuing onwards to my other unexplored states! However as we drove up to the airport Brian DJ’d his last song, epic choice, Closing Time by Semisonic. What a blur of two weeks, so much happened so fast! And now I am alone for the next day and a half filling my time in Denver. normally I thrive exploring by myself but what a strange feeling it was this time after being with someone 24/7