Rocky Mountain High, Part One: Solo Adventure

Rocky Mountain High, Part One: Solo Adventure

Denver is a city that I have wanted to visit for years now. Nothing like a light at the end of a pandemic to inspire me to finally bite the bullet! I had a bunch of travel credits to use from canceled 2020 trips, and direct flights from BWI to Denver were cheap. So, in true Kate fashion, I impulse booked seats for a week in Colorado. 

I flew out on a Saturday night, and by the time we landed in Denver, it was dark, so no scenic views of the Rocky Mountains from above. But the trip was not off to a great start. To begin with, I was stifling in my KN95 on the plane. That’s the price of travel these days, though, I suppose.

We landed about 30 minutes late and I booked it for the rental car shuttle. The sooner I got my rental, the sooner I could begin my hour-long drive to my tiny house Airbnb in nearby Loveland. When I finally arrived at the Riverview RV Park and Campground, it was pitch dark. Despite picking up the map left for me at the front office, I had no idea where my tiny house was.

After a couple loops around the campground, I located my micro abode. I parked my rented Jeep (a fetching two-toned model with a white body and black stripe down the hood, may I add) in front of the cabin and gathered my things. At this point, it was around 12:30am Mountain time (meaning 2:30am Eastern), which is WAYYYYYY past my bedtime. Also, I was urgently in need of a bathroom.

I punched the key code into the lockbox and fished out a single key. I slid the key into the handle of the sliding glass door and … nothing. The key would not turn. I tried twisting it to the right, to the left, softly, forcefully, lovingly, and desperately. When it became apparent that this key was not going to work, I dumped my bags on the porch and scurried around back. Surely the key would work on the back door!

Friends, it did not work on the back door. Getting increasingly disgruntled, I got back in my reverse-skunk-looking Jeep and sent an SOS message to the AirBnb host. While I waited for a response, I started calling a few hotels as a backup plan. The hotel responses were all some variation of, “Sorry! We’re full!” My favorite was, “No rooms are available due to the firemen’s convention.” Well .. at least I’m safe if I decide to burn this place to the ground? (Joking. Fully joking.)

By some small miracle, the Airbnb host answered my message. As luck would have it, he was in town that week and could be to me in ten minutes. When he arrived, I was fairly certain he would put the key in the lock and turn it with ease, proving I am the world’s most incompetent door unlocker. However, my fear did not come true – he, too, couldn’t get the key to turn. In fact, he realized that the key in our possession was actually for the INTERIOR door.

Upon this delightful realization, my would-be savior went off in search of the manager of the campground. Friends, at this point it’s nearing 1:15am, and I still have to use the bathroom. It felt like HOURS waiting for the host and the manager to return.  Lucky for me, the manager, once wrangled had a whole bunch of keys, all of which he seemed to try on my door with no success. The two men scratch their heads for a few minutes while I stand mentally assessing my life choices. Finally, the Manager decides to try his keys on the back door. After a long, trepidatious minute, I heard the glorious “click” of the lock turning. We were in!

Once safely locked back in, I finally made it to the bathroom before climbing up to the sleeping loft. I fell asleep within minutes dreaming of a less eventful tomorrow.

I woke up early in my little sleeping loft. The sky looked gray and ominous, so I wanted to get an early start exploring Rocky Mountain National Park. So I put on some layers, packed up my adventure backpack, and headed out. 

Leaving the campground, I noticed it actually WAS a river view campground. I couldn’t tell in the darkness the night before, but there was literally a bridge over the Big Thompson River at the entrance to the property.

The drive from Loveland to Estes Park is incredible. It follows the Big Thompson through Roosevelt National Forest to the foothills of the Rockies. As an East Coaster, I had never experienced scenery like this. It was hard to resist pulling over every 100 yards to take a picture.

As I pulled into Estes Park, the view of the mountains truly looks like a postcard. I stopped at Starbucks for some much needed caffeine, and even the view from the parking lot was unreal.

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Hiking was a big part of what I planned for the first portion of this trip. I started taking more walks during quarantine, and those walks turned into hikes of increasing length and elevation gain.  Turns out, hiking is a form of exercise I don’t actively despise, so I bought myself a fancy pair of Oboz Sawtooth II hiking boots, all excited to explore the great outdoors. It was a good idea in theory. But all that stuff they tell you about the elevation in Colorado being brutal on East Coast lungs? It is SO very, very true.

Armed with an iced coffee after my scenic Starbucks pitstop, I made my way to the Beaver Meadows entrance station. My plan was to start up high and work my way down, so I started the drive up toward Bear Lake. I was hoping for clear paths, but since it was the end of April, Bear Lake and the surrounding trails remained snow covered. I guess that’s what happens when you’re at nearly 12,000 feet elevation. The other minor hiccup was that, despite the minimal actual elevation change once I arrived at Bear Lake, even the briefest incline left me breathless.

Bear Lake itself was frozen over. Although I had on my hiking boots, the snow on the trail was packed down so hard it felt more like ice skating than walking. There are places in Estes to rent micro spikes, which I would definitely recommend if you plan to meander around in the snow. It became abundantly clear that I was very likely going to slip and fall, so after taking some snowy selfies, I abandoned the Bear Lake hike in favor of heading down the mountain a bit to Sprague Lake.

While still slushy, Sprague Lake and the surrounding trail loop were not frozen. I was able to do the full loop without any major spills, and it was noticeably easier to breathe. It’s a nice, easy loop — good for families and people with mobility challenges. I’d love to go back and see the scenery in the summer. My hiking day in Rocky was cut short by a storm that rolled in, so I decided to spend the afternoon shopping in Estes Park and then napping in my tiny house. What good is vacation without a couple naps?

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Moody Sprague Lake

My hiking adventures didn’t end after my aborted jaunt around the Bear Lake area, though. Once the weather cleared, I was back at it a day later in a different part of the Denver suburbs. Located in the small city of Boulder, the Flatirons are technically in the foothills to the Rockies. Consisting of 5 numbered rock formations, the Flatirons are nearly 300 million years old (according to professor Google). There are a number of hiking trails that will take you up, over, or through the Flatirons, several of which begin at the Chautauqua Trailhead. I chose the 2ish mile Flatiron Loop, which is rated as easy on All Trails. “Easy”, however, is a relative term.

From the parking area (which is small, so get there early), the trail leads towards the mountains with a seemingly gentle incline. It quickly became very clear that, while the gradient was minimal, the starting elevation made everything harder. I had to stop often, and I was sweating within minutes, but I wasn’t there to set any land-speed records. The body that I am in allows me to hike and explore, and it likely won’t always be that way, so I try to appreciate my abilities as they are and not be too hard on myself. Word to the wise, though — if you plan to upload an Instagram video of your hike to your story, make sure the music you choose to post with it ACTUALLY uploads. Otherwise, you will be left with a video on your story whose soundtrack is solely your heavy breathing. 

Stay tuned, because my Colorado adventures continue in my next post, but this time, I have a very special companion. Check in next week to see what kind of shananiganery ensued when my bestie met up with me in Denver. Hint: it involved lots of food, some crafts, and a bestfriend photoshoot.

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