Shotgun Trip to Colorado.
September 23, 2016 to September 26, 2016
If you must know, I'm a complete pussy when it comes to heat. I've had an open complaint against Texas Summer since I can remember. And I will be the first to brand anyone a liar who says you get used to it. It's more like accepting one's defeat, as opposed to becoming acclimated. I was stubborn enough to think some day I'd embrace my perpetual sweat-stache. But let me tell you, that day has yet to come. However, reprieve became inevitable when I'd had one too many beads of back sweat drip down my ass.
And Michael, my boyfriend, is usually the target for the heat-related rants. Seriously, the man would wear jeans in a sauna and ask for a jacket. So he doesn't quite get it. And at the beginning of the week my diatribe was slightly different, because I whined my way into the promise of bearable weather.
"I'm so fucking tired of sweating. I'm just going to drive to Colorado or something, because I'm literally dying." Michael didn't even look up from his phone to apathetically say, "Okay, let's do it." And then I might have cried a little, it might have been sweat, who’s to say. But regardless of it being from my tear ducts or pores, my petty dreams were made.
I immediately grabbed my laptop to plan. It's not that I like having a detailed agenda, but I do like knowing food options. However, Michael doesn't know what he's doing in an hour, yet always has fantastic trips. So I decided to try my hand at spontaneity, and shut my laptop. Well, not without at least looking up locations. Anyway, we’d start driving Friday by 1PM to the Great Sand Dunes National Park, then up to Leadville on Saturday, hike Mount Elbert on Sunday, and back to Austin Monday.
Oh, did I say 1PM? Because I actually meant 3PM, and it's a 12+ hour trip. Only made worse by my child-like excitement for the cold, mountain air. Even an audio book, podcasts and a 100+ song playlist couldn't deter my enthusiasm, so I felt every one of those hours.
Despite the time dilation, we did reach Pinyon Flats Campground around 3AM. And lo and behold there was a sign saying the site was full. What's that? Why didn't we call ahead? Oh, because I was feeling squirrelly and threw caution to the wind. And without my perfectly outlined to do list, I didn’t call. However, I'm way too stubborn, and was far too cranky not to camp. So we paid and entered.
We put on our cold gear (so much yes) and walked around to find an opening. What a little liar that sign was, because spot 21 was wide open. There we set up the tent by iPhone light (spare me I’m a Millennial) then we huddled up and fell asleep.
Here's the thing, we fucked up.
Michael and I woke up to some seemingly catty girl yell-whispering, "No camping!" At first I thought, "Stop meddling!" Though when I finally dragged myself out of the tent, I was put in my place.
That sign wasn't double-dealing. We picked the one place in the entire campground that's a soil rehab. That's right. I successfully defeated the purpose of camping. Moreover, I literally did a walk of shame away from dirt. Though, I cautiously admit, I didn't feel that bad. It was that feeling you get when you know you've done something wrong, and regret it only because you probably should.
Because I'm sorry, but if you ever get a chance to sleep on rehabilitated soil, I recommend it. It was just the softest little spot, and oh so well insulated. If anything, I was helping the soil toughen up to be like the rest of Earth one day.
Before the environmentalists grab their biodegradable pitchforks, know I'm kidding. Please don't do this. Learn from my mistake, and make a reservation. These areas are stunning, and should remain as such. Not only that, hippie side-eye is something fierce.
And with that, we scarfed down Nutella and banana sandwiches, and traipsed our way to the dunes, where our morning's blunder became our fortune. Because when we scrambled to quickly get away from judgment's sight, we became some of the first hikers. And like making those initial tracks after a snowfall, it wasn't any less exciting to do the same with pristine, damp sand.
The dunes themselves are oddly situated. They sit in front of the Sangre de Cristo Range of the Rockies. So, their juxtaposition against the mountains causes them to seem dwarfed. However, don't be fooled. If you're like me and not used to elevation, the hike will leave you a little winded. Not to mention every time you take a step, you feel like you're being forced to dance the Cha Cha Slide.
"To the left! Take it back now, y'all."
Basically, I had to double my steps to get anywhere.
It took us about an hour to hike to the top of High Dune (699 feet), and the top of Star Dune (755 feet), which is the tallest dune in North America. Though to be honest, our need to not incur further ridicule motivated us to get to Leadville to set up camp. So, we only spent a couple hours playing, and watching people sled and sand board the dunes. Though if I were to plan a return trip, I would lend more attention to the surrounding hiking trails. They looked lovely. And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the weather. It was a perfect 50°F, without man-made or weather-made precipitation.
After a lunch stop for warm cherry pie (thanks, Villa Grove Trade), and supplies at Leadville Outdoors & Mountain Market, we arrived at Elbert Creek Campground around 5:30PM. And this site is first come first serve, which boded well for our lack of plan.
Anyway, I’d be lying if I said the 3 hours of sleep wasn’t catching up to me. And for the record, I'd have been perfectly content crawling into bed the second camp was ready. But my tenacity – in the polite sense of the word – wouldn’t allow for my premature retreat. Instead of my plan, we built a fire and cooked dinner. And as the night went on, the combination of sleep deprivation and altitude coaxed out unprecedented giggles.
I accepted defeat just shy of 8PM, but sadly this was only the first of the night. And for honesty’s sake, I admit I’m all talk. Because the whole point for us shotgunning our way to Colorado was to get out of the pressure cooker that is Austin. But it hadn’t even been an hour in the tent when my eyes sneaked over to see if Michael was still awake.
“It’s really c-c-cold, right?” I said. "I d-d-didn't know how g-g-g-ood we had it with our rehab s-s-soil." I joke, because it hurts less.
“Yyyeah,” he sputtered, “k-k-karma's a bitch."
“T-t-there’s always t-the c-c-car?” I tested.
“W-w-what are y-you s-s-saying, K-K-Kait R-R-Reynolds?” He challenged.
I’m still saying I’m a pussy. Apparently not just with heat, but with all weather that falls outside of a 50°F to 80°F range. I guess within that temperature range I can comfortably operate. Or if I would've checked the weather, I'd know the previous night brought one of the first snows of the year. I'm just saying that the icy-cold dirt mercilessly sucked out all body heat.
Regardless of my excuses, Michael called my bluff. And it may come as no surprise, I bailed. I scooped up as many blankets as I could bear hug; then burrito wrapped myself, waddled to the car, and finally plopped down in the passenger seat. Call me what you will, but by god was I so damn toasty. And the warmth soothed my bruised ego, and eased me into sleep.
The hike isn’t difficult. However, my lack of acclimation to altitude made it such. Otherwise, it’s steep, but not technical, and most quasi-in shape people could reach the summit. And yes, the view was lovely. We hiked on a clear day which allowed visibility for miles. But besides my aching muscles, the view isn’t what stuck with me.
It was the power of negative and positive statements. We knew we were getting close, but our hope was weakened by 2 false summits. Finally, Michael asked a passing hiker on his descent if the view was worth it. Sin emotion, he responded, “Sure, I guess. Just keep going.”
Really? I thought. I’d just spent the last 3 hours trudging up this silly trail, and that's all? Though in retrospect he might not have summitted and was bitter about it. Or that’s the story I like to tell myself
But after reaching yet another false peak, there was a father and son on their descent. Michael and I were winded, and gasped out a greeting. The father gave a little chuckle, smiled, and said, “you think you’re in shape, which you are, but that altitude gets ya. You're almost there, and the view is worth the struggle."
And my mood was instantly lifted. How hard was that? I know these two examples seem insignificant, but this is my quick ask to encourage others. Granted, this wasn't an incredibly difficult climb, but for some it is. On our descent, we made a point to be cheerful, offering reassurance. Just in case others would take the same offense I did.
One final gem. The hike was made worth my while after I encountered a Pika. A lone one was scuttling around the rocks at the top. I actually only heard small, “eeks,” before the Pika poked its head above the stone crevice. That's when a man with long, stringy hair, devoured in Denver Broncos blue and orange, educated me about the mountain rabbits.
Yes, rabbits. Because even though they resemble a mix of a hamster and a mouse, they’re part of the rabbit family, and a speculated member of the Pikachu family. Their habitat begins at 11,000 feet of elevation, however they can’t survive in temperatures above 70°F (an animal after my own heart). Pikas will die within hours of being above said temperature. Sadly, their strongest threat is Climate Change. Once I returned to an area with service Google Confirmed everything the zealous Broncos fan taught.
I feel the judgment, and I don't care. I had a wonderful time watching New Girl, eating stoner pizza, and staying up until 6:30PM.
High Mountain Pies | What We Ate (All Of): Large Spinach Salad, Large Jumpin' Good pizza. And if it's not on the nose with the name, they cater to a specific crowd. Regardless, their huge portions and weird combinations satisfied our appetite. And up to that point I'd consumed so much Nutella I'd have eaten anything else. But then again, they didn't have a Nutella pizza.
Drive Home | 6 AM
I had 15 hours the next day to reflect. And here’s what I think I learned. I shouldn’t be an idiot about planning. I mean, my face is buried in some form of technology most of the day that I have no excuse to be ill prepared. However, I think there is beauty in spontaneity. The unplanned memories are funnier with more time. Also, my “stupidity,” or whatever you might call it, made the time unique to me. In short, I couldn’t honestly say I’d make this trip again anytime soon. Then again, I wouldn’t not do it again. Maybe next time bring more blankets, or say fuck it and get a hotel.