Test Drive: Colorado

Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park

For about five years now, I’ve felt like a certain group of my friends were acting like car salesmen.  I mean this in the most positive way possible, because their incentives were not  financial gains.  Rather, they simply wanted to see me in a car that they thought I would love to drive.  That car:  Colorado.

For years, my friends out in Colorado have told me that the state comes with all of the greatest features.  No, I’m not talking air conditioning, heated seats, and power windows.  Rather, I’m talking tall peaks, endless powder, beautiful trails, views for days, countless music venues, and an outdoor culture that I’d love to sink into.  Not to mention, more breweries than I’d even know what to do with.  Finally, after about five years of being asked, I decided to take a long overdue trip to Colorado and see what it was really all about.

I was fortunate to find enough time and money to spend 13 days in CO.  My friends and Max and Alli helped me start the trip off right by taking me to REI and Denver Beer Co. almost immediately after getting off the airplane.  The REI was like none I’d ever seen back east, and I enjoyed Denver Beer Co.’s Barleywine in a brewery environment not unlike those in Asheville, NC.  Already, I was liking Colorado’s chances.  From here on out, as predicted, my trip was a strong mix of hiking, snowboarding, great food (mostly burritos), brewery visits, and hanging with friends.  Even a touch of music.  There’s too much to talk about it all, but let me highlight some of my favorites and offer my general impressions.

Favorite Skiing

with Ellie and Max after a great day at A-Basin
with Ellie and Max after a great day at A-Basin

I skied Arapahoe Basin, Loveland, and Winter Park while in Colorado.  I had plans to visit a fourth mountain, but the onset of what would later be diagnosed as a ‘horrible sinus infection’ by my doctor halted my last day of skiing plans.  My favorite day of skiing was my day at Arapahoe Basin.  Everything seemed to come together nicely that day.  I had great company in my friends Max and Ellie, there wasn’t too much ski traffic on the highway, the sun was shining, the lift lines were short, and powder was plentiful.  I did not fail to indulge in the pleasure of skiing the snowfields high up in the Montezuma Bowl, eventually transitioning to cutting turns in between the tall conifers lower down the mountain.  I can’t even imagine how tall these trees must be without a deep base of snow making them appear shorter.  I also enjoyed  skiing at Loveland (particularly from the ridge) and Winter Park with longtime friends Scott and Chris, but my day at A-Basin definitely hit on all cylinders (another car reference?  I’m getting good at this ‘metaphors’ stuff, haha).

with Scott and Max at Loveland
with Scott and Max at Loveland

Favorite Hike

Red Rocks Ampitheater
Red Rocks Ampitheater

I got to hike a bit more than snowboard on this trip, and that’s just the way I like it.  For the most part, I didn’t get TOO deep into the mountains, mostly due to a limited transportation situation, but definitely got to experience some front range classics.  This included, but wasn’t limited to, the infamous Red Rocks Park in Morrison, CO, the snow covered Flatirons of Chataqua Park of Boulder, CO, and a quickie up South Table Mesa in Golden, CO.  However, without question, my favorite day of hiking took place at Rocky Mountain National Park.  My childhood friend Jesse took me on a spectacular hike/snowshoe to Nymph, Dream, and Emerald Lake.  We arrived at the trailhead to see a gaggle of eager hikers, so we expected to have heavy company the whole day.  However, we set off ahead of the crowd, and ended up being alone pretty much the whole day.  Still, it is clear the “Bear Lake area” near where we

along the trail to Emerald Lake, RMNP
along the trail to Emerald Lake, RMNP

hiked is one of the most popular places in the park, but it is for good reason.  The snow and ice on the lakes were so thick, we were able to hike straight across them.  The towering mountain peaks seen from the trail are inspiring, and the commanding presence of the bowl shaped cliff band above Emerald Lake is like no place I’ve ever really been.  This hike is only 3.6 miles round trip, but it is a 3.6 miles to be savored.  On the clear and sunny day that we had, savor it is exactly what we did.  Rocky Mountain National Park is certainly a place I want to return to, and a place I would love to work.

Biggest Surprises

While in CO, I was surprised by many things.  I’ll just list a few here quickly.

First, I was surprised by how warm the Denver and Boulder areas could be when it was cold in the mountains.  I had heard it could be much warmer, but I was not prepared for how warm it could be.  Coming from the east, it was still the dead of winter as far as I was concerned.  Not to mention, 5,280 feet in elevation is still high, and I thought that would contribute to creating a colder temperature.  I made the mistake of only packing a pair of winter specific hiking boots for my entire trip.  I was forced to buy a pair of mesh Scarpa trailrunning/lightweight hiker type shoes, because I couldn’t stand how hot my feet were getting.

I had to take an Amtrak train from Winter Park back to Denver one of the days.  I was kind of upset, because the train ride was about 2 hours and 45 minutes.  I figured had I drove it could have been an hour and a half, and I could have done more in Denver that evening.  However, the train ride was actually awesome.  It was great to cut across the mountains in a train, enjoying the scenery at a leisurely pace.  I really enjoyed it.

I randomly walked into a bar called Ullr’s Tavern in Winter Park on a Sunday with some friends, only to find out a band called Pigeons Playing Ping Pong was playing.  This band was a fixture in Blacksburg, VA while I was in college, however, I had never gone to see them even though my friends had.  It was a funny coincidence to see them for my first time in CO.  They were awesome!  Very funky.  Cool to get out and experience some of the CO music scene as well.

Culture

three Hokies in Denver, CO enjoying a few brews
three Hokies in Denver, CO enjoying a few brews

Ultimately, what I like about Colorado is its outdoor culture.  It seems that the outdoors is a big part of each person’s daily consciousness, in a way that is more apparent than on the east coast.  I will not say that it does not exist in the east, but it just manifests itself differently.  There seems to be a strong emphasis on public lands and open space in Colorado.  Maybe this outdoor culture stems from the fact that there really is just so much “land,” whose opportunity within is highly visible to the eye, in contrast to the densely populated and highly residential east coast.  Whatever it is, people embrace the outdoors and are very open about it.  I liked the outdoor culture a lot, and can see myself as a part of it.  Not to mention, the music and beer culture is excellent.

Shameless Plug

It was with much delight that I was able to reunite with childhood hometown friends, Scott

A sticker for Jenny, had made its way around the world
A sticker for Jenny, has made its way around the world

and Courtney, as well as their mother Jenny.  They moved from CT to CO 5 or 6 years ago.  However, Jenny has unfortunately been living with cancer for quite some time now.  Throughout the whole thing, she has continued to live with that great Colorado zeal for life, adventuring and pursuing her passions.  In fact, there is a documentary being made about her.  I would love for you to check out her website to see her story, donate to her cause, or just find personal inspiration from her story.  She is proof that “you don’t choose a life.  You live one.”

http://www.iheartjenny.org/

Conclusion

It is probably pretty clear that I had a blast in Colorado.  How could I not, spending 13 days doing my favorite things in an awe-inspiring place? The mountains, beer, and culture were spectacular.  However, it was my friends, old and new from home, college, Camp Walt Whitman, and Colorado itself, that made my trip special.  I am grateful that they shared with me their favorite parts of the place they love or experienced it for the first time by my side.  Many thanks to (okay, here come the shout outs):  Max, Ally, Nick, Ryan, Ellie, Jesse, Nicole, Scott, Courtney, Jenny, Matt, John, Scott, Chris, and Tessa.  I can’t say that I’m in a rush to move there for movings sake, because the Appalachians still have my heart and soul.  However, Colorado was an amazing experience, has a lot to offer me, and a plethora of amazing options for the lifestyle I’d like to live.  In fact, I even stumbled across a few job opportunities while I was out there.  So, if the timing was right, and an awesome job was in play, I would be ecstatic to take Colorado out for another spin around the block, but in a more long term way.  Smooth ride.

Lenticular Clouds over the Continental Divide from Winter Park
Lenticular Clouds over the Continental Divide from Winter Park
South Table Mesa
South Table Mesa

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2 thoughts on “Test Drive: Colorado

  1. heck yes. sounds like you had a great time. certainly the mecca, but almost to the point of the outdoor culture being too prevalent? you’re the third or fourth person i’ve known that’s “not in a rush to move there.” in my opinion, i think CO is the place to visit on a regular basis but not live. sometimes best to keep things in their romanticized state

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