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My great Colorado escape

I’m a sucker for inspirational romance novels. Thanks to BookBub, I’m emailed about books that are available for free – or very cheap – on Amazon every day. I’ve read hundreds of these books. Some are great. Some are not. Still, I like to forget about the real world for a couple of hours and lose myself in one of these books, however ridiculous it is. My favorite setting is always the mountains. I love stories about men and women who traveled west with their horse and buggies and made a go at living on the wild land. Reading about those mountain mornings, mountain sunrises and sunsets, mountain lakes, and mountain landscapes draws me in and swallows me up.

For years I thought that Colorado would be my paradise though I’d never actually been there. I didn’t get a taste of Colorado living until just a few short weekends ago, and it didn’t disappoint me.

My husband and I have a knack for cramming as much as possible into a weekend vacation. Until recently, my all-time favorite whirlwind vacation was the one we spent with friends in Yosemite. The weather, the nature, the hiking… it was perfect! So was the weekend Mark and I spent together last year in Lake Placid hiking Giant and Rocky Ridge. And I am pleased to say that my weekend in Colorado is combating for that #1 position.

deer-mountain
Sneak peek of the view from the top of Deer Mountain

When I arrived in Colorado, my husband and I drove to Longmont where we stayed with some friends of his. Though now I can claim them as my friends too. 🙂 It was already getting late and a cold front was moving over the mountains so I couldn’t see much on the drive there, but my anticipation couldn’t be beat. I was so excited! After dinner at a local brewery, which are plentiful there, we mapped out the path Mark and I would take in the morning. My first Rocky Mountain adventure!

It was supposed to be cold and rainy, so our plan was to drive the Trail Ridge Road, which is in Rocky Mountain National Park, to get the best views of the mountains and then head back down the mountains to see what small hikes we could find, weather permitting. We set out in the early morning and hit up a local cafe for a breakfast sandwich.

I have to take a minute to say how much I love the small mountain-town coffee shops that serve breakfast. I loved the ones we visited in Lake Placid and I loved this one near Longmont. When we walked in, the other folks waiting for their coffee were wearing Cambelbaks, hiking boots, and flannel shirts. The decor was mismatched and rugged and the atmosphere was laid back – complete with a handwritten menu on a chalkboard. It was raw and natural. I’m telling you, this type of place screams “home” to me.

elk-in-estes-park
Elk grazing in the town square at Estes Park

We drove through Estes Park to get to RMNP and were struck by how much the town reminded us of some of the places we’ve visited in the Adirondacks. Except for one thing. The elk grazing in the park! No, these were not tame elk kept by the town as a tourist attraction. They were wild elk that sauntered into town for an early morning treat of green, dewy grass. If that was all I saw that day, I would have been happy.

lookout
Mark and I on Trail Ridge Road, just before being turned around by a park ranger

Fortunately for me, the day only got better. Once we were on Trail Ridge Road and making our ascent to the higher peaks (yes, by car) we made a few stops to enjoy the view. The higher the car climbed, the colder it got – I’m talking 30’s, here – and soon we were seeing flurries. It was snowing! By the time we got to one of the first main lookouts and parked the car, we had to slowly and carefully walk down the path to the railing because the snow was quickly turning to ice. But we’re from Upstate NY and are used to slippery, wintry road conditions so we traveled on.

A little farther up, and people started pulling off to the side of the road. I looked over at my husband and saw that his hands were tightly gripping the steering wheel. Imagine being on a mountain road – albeit paved, and well maintained – with a fresh layer of snow and ice pulling at your wheels and a huge cliff with no guardrail just a couple feet away. It was a little intimidating, especially when we were pretty sure some of the other drivers were NOT from states that are used to dealing with snow and ice and didn’t know how to drive in it. Just a short stretch up the road and a park ranger was turning people around. They were closing the road due to the two feet of snow that had fallen in the peaks. Two feet of snow! In mid-September. Crazy. So we were forced to turn around and forego the incredible views of the mountains that we’d been hoping for.

view-from-deer-mountain
View from the top of Deer Mountain

 

But all was not lost! With a handy trail map in hand, we made our descent from the peaks and found a small mountain with a trailhead called Deer Mountain Trail. We parked on the side of the road and decided to check it out. It was just a six mile hike, round trip, and the weather was more suitable at this lower elevation (something like 8,900 feet) so we decided to go for it.

aspens-on-deer-mountain
Aspens on the trail up to Deer Mountain

We knew to be careful since I was 22 weeks pregnant and not used to the elevation, so we took it at a slow and steady pace. Boy, was it worth venturing out of our car! The whole hike was fantastic. It wasn’t very taxing physically, in fact, I’d call it easy, and the fresh air and views were amazing. I couldn’t have been happier with the way our day was turning out.

mark-on-deer-mountain
Me proving that Mark was with me 🙂

Once we completed our hike we decided to head back into Estes Park and find a place to eat some lunch. There was a festival going on and the place was packed! We parked on the edge of town and walked the main strip to see what the place had to offer. Much to my extreme delight and satisfaction, the local bands performing in the park were playing country music. It was heaven to my ears! This good day was getting even better.

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Setting out on the trail up Deer Mountain

By now the weather was chilly but beautiful, and we could enjoy the town, the food, and the music without worrying about it. I’ve decided that a “bad weather day” in Colorado is still better than some of the “good weather days” in Upstate NY. Yes, it was cold and snowy up in the mountains, but that passed, the sun came out, and the sky was blue. I thought the day was perfect.

Once we had our fill of Estes Park, we headed back to our friends’ house and enjoyed a delicious homemade dinner of chicken French. We made plans for the next day, which would be super fun because they would be able to hike with us. With a couple of locals as our guide, we were sure to hit some great spots! We settled on hiking to Blue Lake in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, a five mile hike round trip.

blue-lake
Blue Lake – this picture doesn’t do the sapphire blue of the lake justice

It was another cold start the next morning and at times the wind was quite chilling, but the sky was beautiful and the landscape couldn’t be beat. I was excited for another day in the mountains. As we drove to the Wilderness, I drank in the scenery. And what I thought was SO cool was the number of people out and about, walking, running, and riding their bikes. I swear, this place has a beacon set for people who love the active lifestyle. Once again, I was completely drawn into it all.

mooose
Look carefully, there’s a moose!

Just short of the parking lot for the Blue Lake trailhead, we noticed a few cars parked on the side of the road, which made us think something was going on. And there was! A moose was walking by. Can you believe it!? I saw a moose! Thank you, Colorado, for making my dreams come true!

hike-to-blue-lake
Path to Blue Lake

The hike to Blue Lake was much different from the hike up Deer Mountain and the terrain was as well. They were so different that I don’t even think it’s fair to compare one to the other; they were both a great experience in their own right. Because the wind on this second hike was much worse, I never took my hands out of my pocket so I was thankful that Mark was less wimpy about it and snapped some pictures with his phone. I was also thankful that I didn’t seem to hold anyone up. I was a bit worried going into the trip that by being pregnant I would slow everyone down and they would enjoy the hike less, but that didn’t seem to be the case. We all moved together at a comfortable pace and had loads of fun.

me-hiking-to-blue-lake
Trekking my way up to Blue Lake

Back at our friends’ house for the evening we enjoyed another homemade meal. This time it was amazing chicken quesadillas and guacamole. I ate twice as much as I normally do, it was so good! To make the evening even more perfect, I had the chance to love on our friends’ three-month-old little girl, which made my arms ache even more to hold our own baby girl in another couple of months.

After two days full of hiking and Colorado living, it was time to go home. Mark and I begrudgingly packed our bags and prepared to fly home, leaving a little piece of ourselves in the mountains though really looking forward to seeing Eve and Vera. I loved Colorado so much that the evening I got home I casually looked at real estate out there. Imagine seeing those mountains every morning. The skiing, the hiking, the like-mindedness of those who live near you. It sounds amazing.

If you’re like my husband and me and enjoy active vacations, then you know how important it is to be prepared for them. When you book your next trip, make sure to plan properly for it. Here are a few tips to keep in mind.

1. Check the weather forecast for the local area and any area you plan to visit.

Fortunately for us, my husband and I were able to borrow wool socks, hats, and coats from our friends because we were NOT prepared to spend any amount of time in snow and ice. We had to pack a week in advance and the forecast changed. When you travel to a place like the mountains, the weather can change fast. It’s important to be prepared for any conditions.

2. Bring a Camelbak or a backpack that you can use to carry water.

You need to stay hydrated. I’m used to humidity and the Colorado air is dry. Throw in the elevation and it’s a recipe for disaster if you don’t stay hydrated. As with hiking anywhere, having water available to you at all times should be a priority.

3. Know your level of fitness and don’t push yourself too hard.

Normally, I’m the go big or go home type of person. I think driving up a mountain to see the view is lame. I’d much prefer to experience the mountain itself by hiking up it. Being pregnant on this trip made me tone it back a bit. I didn’t push myself to go fast and I didn’t push myself to do extremely long distances or traverse extremely difficult terrain. While I usually find these challenges appealing, I knew this trip was not the time for that. It’s important to know what you can safely do and stick to that. Pushing past the brinks of safety doesn’t make you tough, it makes you foolish.

4. Choose to vacation with like-minded people.

Everyone is different, and what is easily manageable for you may be difficult for someone else, and vice versa. If you really want to enjoy yourself and get the most out of your time, go with people who agree with you about what is fun and what is not fun. Not only will the activity itself be more enjoyable, but so will the conversation and camaraderie you share along the way.

If you have a vacation planned, I want to hear about it! Leave a comment below to let all the FitGrape readers know what activities you like and any tips you have for enjoying them the most.

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