An updated 5 year plan – The Road, as it were, Ahead

The Preamble

This story will start relatively differently than many I have told or even heard.

In July, I helped a friend move a gigantic 9 foot sectional-L couch.

Good night, everybody!

But this task was rendered surprisingly easy – we made use of his company’s Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van:

A sample Sprinter, thanks Wikipedia!

The Sprinter, with its cavernous cargo area and low deck for ease of loading, made the job supremely easy. For years now I have been intending on buying a piece of land and designing/building my own house. The specifics of where and how much land and what type of house and more has been fluid and changed over time, but I definitely plan on doing it. As such, and being the overly-analytical type who loves planning and researching, I have long looked into various pickup trucks. After all: some day, I will need a vehicle capable of being used to do construction (towing; moving gear and building materials; and rough road/offroad capable). My thinking on the value of a truck was in jeopardy, though, because this Sprinter van presented a new option for me to consider.

I did my usual, and began the process of looking into (meaning: WAY too much reading and research) this Sprinter van and how it might be a good match for the house building in my eventual future. Unrelated, but serendipitous, a few weeks later a coworker (who knew of my interest in a truck some day) passed me a link to the fantastic Outside Van in Oregon.  This company specializes in taking Sprinter vans with the 4×4 option and then upfitting them to become real deal offroad camping/adventure vans. Their work is excellent and also stupidly overpriced – but I spent a good 4 hours perusing the entirety of their website. I was enamored of this idea, as I love camping and trips, and it struck me – my Sprinter for building a house could actually be dual purpose, and let me make my own adventure vehicle.

To make a long, long, story short – I spent a LOT of time reading up about Sprinters and how they aren’t as reliable as one might like. And their 4×4 is capable for a big refrigerator of a van, but isn’t really going to get me as far offroad for camping as I would like. And many other little issues. So I looked into the Ford Transit…

A Ford Transit, compliments of Wikipedia!

A Ford Transit, compliments of Wikipedia!

… which doesn’t come in a 4×4, but there is a company available for putting in a 4×4 system (they’ve been doing this since 1965 on Ford Econoline vans and they’re extremely good at it). This option sounded really good and I looked into it quite a bit… and was pretty sure I wanted to go for it. Being me, I still researched the hell out of other options. Even back in May (prior to this van option, but as a part of “which truck do I want some day for my house building”), I had done a test drive of the new diesel Chevy Colorado truck – I was too large to comfortably see out of it, but I still felt the allure of a sleek, capable, and efficient smaller diesel truck.

Then several weeks passed, and I ended up going to Ann Arbor MI a few weeks ago now. I got very VERY tired of the sore knees/neck/back that come standard with me riding in my Chevy and my Subaru due to being so tall. This soreness and pain come with daily commutes in minor form, but over longer trips, it is just miserable. Because the Chevy, while I bought it for the fuel efficiency for my long trips, is simply too small for me. More specifically, I can’t see the traffic light if I am the first vehicle in line at an intersection – do not attempt this at home:

This is not a stunt - this level of hunching is always required for me to fit in most cars, due to being a giant amongst men.

This is not a stunt – this level of hunching is always required for me to fit in most cars, due to being a giant amongst men.

The Subaru that I am lucky enough to have has an even smaller cabin – my right leg only fits in one orientation so I cannot move or shift it for the duration of my ride. In both cars, my knees are pushed up into the dashboard – so if I were to get into a car accident, I could see knee and/or leg damage on top of any other bodily harm. I am sick of folding myself up and down into these cars… and “cars” means insuring and maintaining and storing two vehicles.

I am, over these past few months, trying to reduce things in my life – material things, scheduling things, overworking tendency things. Reducing down to a single vehicle for the entire year makes a lot of sense to me, and particularly if I get a vehicle that is the right size for a giant. To bring this back around to my trip to Ann Arbor – I will in the car for ~12 hours over the weekend and had sore knees for days afterwards. On my way back from MI I called a few friends to discuss options, and I essentially put together all of my research and years of lived driving trip experience – rather than buying (and insuring, and maintaining, and storing) a third vehicle, one of those vans, which wouldn’t be especially useful as a daily driver… perhaps what I should do is get rid of my two current vehicles and then grab the truck I want for my trip now. That will give me 4 years to design, build, test, improve, and re-test my camping rig before departing on the Big Trip (see below).

I did test drive the general type of truck I want to get, while I was in NC, and I loved it:

Test drive joy!

Test drive joy!

For more details on the particular truck involved, please see the next blog post I will be doing in the next few days 🙂

The Plan

So in the midst of the above research about vehicles and possible adventures to go on, I organically arrived at the following general intention, which evolved into the following: in about 4 years from now, I will embark upon a year-long trip. I will drive north into Canada and then diagonally across that nation to Alaska – taking every chance to soak in the undeveloped wilderness of the western provinces and the widely-acknowledged superior mountain glory of the Canadian Rockies (over against the American Rockies). I will drive as far north in Alaska as I can get, aiming to be there near the summer so I can really experience the explosion of life that occurs as the temperature warms. I will drive down to Washington state, and then go north and south and hit every other US state in a row. I will budget for a ticket to Hawaii while I am out west so I can collect the whole set, so to speak.

The adventure vehicle, which will be a Ram 1500 Ecodiesel engine capable of ~32mpg on the highway, will see me able to efficiently zip along the highways and local roads… but perhaps most importantly, I will be able to go off the road and see and camp wherever I’d like. The “wherever I’d like” portion of this is especially important, here – against my typical inclinations, I am intending on having a handful of things I plan ahead to see in each state or province… but otherwise, I sort of just want to keep driving and seeing whatever I encounter. Just going with the flow… while collecting the disparate experiences that shall add up to the adventure of a lifetime, I hope.

I will most definitely do a blog with photos and videos of the experience. For the video portion, I am thinking I would like to pick up a drone with an integrated HD video camera. I may try and invest in a telescope I can attach my camera to, to get photos of the stars as seen from the darkness of the wilderness. I may even do an intermittent podcast while I drive – more and more, I have become interested in radio productions and it seems like it could be fun to have an audio-only chronicle of portions of the trip so the imagination does the grunt work. I do hope to pursue sponsorships for my big trip – both in terms of getting gear for cheaper or for free, and in terms of advertising on the blog, to help fund the trip.

The Timeline

As a general point, the intention is as follows:

10/30/16-(spoiler) go trade in my Chevy Cruze on the truck (which is located in NC, as the diesel 4×4 Outdoorsman trucks are nearly gone from the 2016 model year)

~December 31 2020 – quit or take a sabbatical from McMaster-Carr

~Early January 2021 (?) – as someone who rather enjoys winter camping, I see no problem with starting my trip in the cold and progressing from there.

~for the following year – go and experience all the general things listed above, and the specific delights which come forth as a part of it

And that’s it. I will play it all as it comes. Which is rather different than my usual modus operendi… and that’s a damned good thing that I am going against it.

BONUS: The Plan After The Big Trip – Finally getting a PhD?

This blog post is a 5 year plan by title – and if I go on a yearlong trip 4 years from now, that will indeed bring me to end of a 5 year span. But do not fear: being  the planning type, I have some big plans for immediately after I return. In short: after going to Harvard in person for class in September, I spoke to the professor of the class and he was very encouraging about the possibility of my doing a PhD in Sustainability. He even mentioned the possibility of my doing a post-doc with him at Harvard once finished. He suggested doing my doctorate in England, as they take prior work and academic experience more into account than they do in US programs. That could mean 2-3 years to do the PhD in England, versus 4-5 years in the US. The professor does sustainability consulting for government and industry around the world, and for a variety of reasons that type of work sounds intensely fascinating to me.

So: more on this in a few years, once I, you know, finish this current Masters of Management degree. But I do suspect that the end of my yearlong trip, and the beginning of 6 years from now, shall see me flying across the pond, as they say, to try my hand at studying in Angle-land.

A lightning update – trips to MI and NC; continuing this most recent degree

So: the year has certainly been a whirlwind, as I tend to do to myself with my own choices about scheduling. But I have done better with trying to do less in total; and, failing that, I am giving a much higher time share to having fun and enjoying myself.

And this set of changes has been awesome, for reasons including…

The First of Four Visits to Hahvahd.

The second week of September, I did officially get into Harvard’s Master of Management program (anyone can take any course through the Extension School; but you have to pass certain courses at a high level and then get through the application process). Which was exciting in its own way… but especially edifying because the weekend immediately afterwards I went to Cambridge in person for course. This semester has actually been one of the best courses I have ever taken – Sustainable Manufacturing and Supply Chain Management. The course material is right up my alley; the professor is a practitioner who came to the academy unexpectedly as an expert; and the course is filled with people who come from a variety of skillsets and backgrounds who want to learn real skills about helping the world waste less (money, water, power, resources, time). Very little pontificating by people who have no idea what they’re talking about; very little time wasted at all because everyone loves learning from the lived experience of the professor. What a treat – and I got the chance to go in person and experience 2 full days of this, in a new and interesting place!

In short: if you’re interested in this sort of thing, go read about the Toyota Manufacturing miracle and how they have been able to build such low cost cars at such high levels of quality for years now. They had no sustainability for the environment as their core focus; but instead their unceasing insistence on helping the company grow and also the communities in which Toyota is located, they have zeroed in on waste in amazing ways over decades. So good.

Another Lovely Visit to Ann Arbor (And Detroit. And Frankenmuth)

Thankful to my friends Chris and Liz for their continuing Ann Arbor-based hospitality. Especially exciting – my old friends JJ, Greg, Steve, and Milla also all ended up being in MI for the weekend! We had a whole bunch of laughs; checked out a surprisingly vibrant outdoor/indoor market in downtown Detroit, including a pretty slick little hydroponics shop:

The primary hydroponics store supplying the growing number of urban farmers in Detroit

The primary hydroponics store supplying the growing number of urban farmers in Detroit

We also had to hit the unreasonably delicious Green Dot Stables (as we have, every time I’ve visited there), and we managed to do the usual – go there hungry, end up waiting a REALLY long time for one of the few tables in the place, and then being stupidly hungry by the time the delicious, delicious sliders and drinks started hitting our table… and disappearing into our hungry faces:

One of my favorite restaurants ever, in a bad part of Detroit

One of my favorite restaurants ever, in a bad part of Detroit

Sunday saw a trip to Frankenmuth, a surprisingly strongly Bavarian outpost in the middle of Michigan. After a few hours trip with great conversation (and for me, great knee pain from being too tall for my slick little Cruze – more on this in a subsequent post), we arrived and had a delicious feast of a lunch. We then walked around the town a bit, eventually hitting the famous clock shop in the town:

The coolest clock in the famous clock shop of Frankenmuth, MI

The coolest clock in the famous clock shop of Frankenmuth, MI

On our way out of the area and back to Ann Arbor, we hit a place with billboards as far as away as east of Toledo Ohio – Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland. The title ought to imply a certain religious intention behind this store/mega-warehouse of Christmas cheer. And that is genuinely good, that the folks behind the business have convictions and try to support them in the running of their enterprise.

That said: this place was unsettlingly overpowering in its ~~CHRISTMAS OVERLOAD~~ and breathtaking consumerism of EVERY imaginable sort of Christmas ornament on shelves by type and size and color and sub-type, waiting for you to buy it. Celebrating something important to you – an important thing as well. I just am not sure how the materialistic focus of this cavernous warehouse of iniquity – which is sort of what it felt like to me, at least – is really able to square up against the theology of the Christmas story.

JJ in front of the idolatry hive/Bronner's Christmas Wonderland

JJ in front of the idolatry hive/Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland

But nevertheless – a great fun weekend with old friends from DC, a lot of laughing until crying, and delicious food to an uncomfortable degree. Perfect!

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Switching gears, to the four day weekend after MI, I then had the distinct pleasure of…

An Amazing Weekend in the Appalachians, in western North Carolina

I had a four day weekend due to using some of my scant remaining vacation time for 2016; a plane ticket to and from Charlotte NC via Southwest; and a small carry-on. I was ready for a visit to my friend Amber (met during my time at Yale).

And what a weekend it was – easily the peak weekend for the leaves changing up in the mountains of western North Carolina, we were consistently finding our breath taken away by the natural beauty issuing forth around us.

One of the famous shots from "Last of the Mohicans" was filmed here

One of the famous shots from “Last of the Mohicans” was filmed here

We got to drive through the mountains and along several portions of the Blue Ridge Parkway – a place which very much reminded me of the amazing experience of the Rocky Mountain’s scenic byway from my trip to Colorado back in August!

The gorgeous overlook of a small set of falls - at which the Cherokee used to push off captives to their death. Also, good photo op!

The gorgeous overlook of a small set of falls – at which the Cherokee used to push off captives to their death. Also, good photo op!

We also had the distinct pleasure of hiking many places with Amber’s dog Roxy, a black lab (mixed with something else, not sure what) and all the people fawning over the adorable small dog made us feel like mere adjutants to the dog’s celebrity. But somehow, even though I genuinely really don’t care for dogs, Roxy felt right as a portion of the hiking experience.

Amber and I with her dog Roxy

Amber and I with her dog Roxy

The absurd beauty of the Appalachians cannot be overstated.

The absurd beauty of the Appalachians cannot be overstated.

Amber’s parents and brother were both very gracious in opening their homes to me as I was a guest in their native mountains – and helped make a supremely relaxing weekend even better by their kind hospitality.

UGH almost too beautiful

UGH almost too beautiful

The photos I have taken and posted here were all done with my phone – they do not do the raw beauty of nature justice. As part of the “ACTUALLY relax on this trip” mindset I went in with, I decided to leave the camera & lenses behind in favor of simplified packing and just soaking in the views with my own two eyes. So forgive the lack of show-grade photos here – but rejoice with me for having tried to do something out of my character and just live in the moment(s)!

The glories of the mountains in the fall.

The glories of the mountains in the fall.

It was, as you might expect, very difficult to depart such a relaxing and gorgeous place, spending time with an old friend and her lovely family, enjoying good food and generally not worrying about anything. But I cherish the time spent away from it all, and I look forward to future trips like this going forward!

Colorado Trip: Red Rocks Amphitheater; Dinosaur Ridge; Rocky Mountains Arsenal Wildlife Refuge; Casa Bonita

And so we reached the zenith of our trip: the final full day, Tuesday, upon which we wanted to fit in as much as possibly could; while also returning the car on time (by 8pm).  We also woke up to a very hot day, topping 100 degrees at point but often settling into a chilly 97 degrees.  While there was almost no humidity, as is the norm around Denver, it was still quite thoroughly hot.

Red Rocks Amphitheater

This is a well-known venue for music and performance of all sorts, relatively close to the city of Denver.  There were no especially great performances going on during our time in CO; but our interest was more in seeing the gorgeous eponymous red rocks.  We got our typical Coloradan dose of wilderness, scenic vistas, and busy backcountry roads full of other explorers… but this time we got a lot of sunlight as well.  My SPF 100 sunscreen worked hard and earned its keep.

Some sort of magpie, in glorious flight against the backdrop of distant Denver, in the extreme heat of the day.

Some sort of magpie, in glorious flight against the backdrop of distant Denver, in the extreme heat of the day.

Some event or other was being set up for later in the day, but we were able to freely walk in and enjoy the venue.  I mostly hid in the shade and watched for avian friends; Richard and Sophia did the lengthy walk down and back from the stage area.

A monument to the Civilian Conservation Corps members who built the Amphitheater, along the path in. The Two monolithic rock formations are on either side of the seating area.

A monument to the Civilian Conservation Corps members who built the Amphitheater, along the path in. The Two monolithic rock formations are on either side of the seating area.

The view from the amphitheater overlooks Denver

The view from the amphitheater overlooks Denver

The view from Red Rocks was nice in towards Denver... but in reality, the view away from the city was far better.

The view from Red Rocks was nice in towards Denver… but in reality, the view away from the city was far better.

We drove a bit up the road, warm and sweaty, and figured we might try our hand at finding and exploring the famous…

Dinosaur Ridge… sort of.

With the sun blazing down we followed our GPS to the Stegosaurus Parking Lot.  A slew of cars were present, and there was clearly a walking trail to the side, so we got out and into the 100 degree heat and began trudging up the walkway.

IMGP5605Across the highway which had split the ridge, there was some gorgeous differently-colored strata of rocks and soil visible because the ridge had been carved out:

A view of the widely varied geological strata across the highway...

A view of the widely varied geological strata across the highway…

We walked up all the way to… a fence with a sign warning that we turn around because the other side of the fence and ridge was the primary law enforcement target range for the Denver area.  In short, as we found out after the fact, we had found one of the tour bus parking lots along the real Dinosaur Ridge – but not the park where we could walk.

... the same riotous geological formations, along the walking path.

… the same riotous geological formations, along the walking path.

It was so oppressively hot, and we were so entirely tired (especially after the huge amount of driving and sightseeing we had accomplished the day prior), that we went and got Chipotle for lunch (though not at the original Chipotle).  There, we considered other museums to see (the Railway Museum; the Aviation Museum) … until Richard made the really solid point that maybe we could do just one other thing, then return the car and go back to the hotel to actually relax a bit on our vacation.

Acting upon his entirely sound advice, we chose our last major point of interest and my second favorite portion of our trip, and drove northeast of Denver proper to get to the…

Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge

One of the best parts of the trip, as I mentioned, and it is because we were surrounded by so many kinds of wildlife thriving.  That itself isn’t rare necessarily – but it is the story behind the site that makes it so satisfying.  In short: the Arsenal was just that, the production center for a huge amount of weaponry during World War II.  At the conclusion of hostilities, the armaments production was suspended, and the land passed to Shell for the production of agricultural petrochemicals.  That too eventually ceased – and at some point the US Fish and Wildlife Service stepped in and strove to reclaim the lands.

After a great deal of work, they finished the project in 2010 – and so there is now a 15,000 acre wildlife refuge northeast of Denver.

And so: wildlife photos, the best of what we snagged, as we slowly drove through in the oppressive heat of the day:

A very normal sign at the entrance to the Refuge...

A very normal sign at the entrance to the Refuge…

... followed by a very Coloradan no-marijuana-laden regulations sign!

… followed by a very Coloradan no-marijuana-laden regulations sign!

One of a slew of birds living its avian life in the beauty of the Refuge.

One of a slew of birds living its avian life in the beauty of the Refuge.

The sizable Visitor's Center across the Refuge's prairie, which we didn't get to visit as it was closed.

The sizable Visitor’s Center across the Refuge’s prairie, which we didn’t get to visit as it was closed.

One of the ~2.446 trillion prairie dogs standing watch in the Refuge.

One of the ~2.446 trillion prairie dogs standing watch in the Refuge.

This is one of the better shots we got of birds as they zipped around in the air.

This is one of the better shots we got of birds as they zipped around in the air.

First several bison we saw were behind a flimsy fence but rather close to us...

First several bison we saw were behind a flimsy fence but rather close to us…

... that first bison was so interesting that birds had gathered to watch him like we were.

… that first bison was so interesting that birds had gathered to watch him like we were.

Then, we moved past the flimsy fence into an area where, as the sign warned us, bison were present and were playing for keeps.

Then, we moved past the flimsy fence into an area where, as the sign warned us, bison were present and were playing for keeps.

Probably my second-favorite photo and experience of the trip, after those heating lightning arcs we saw and captured:

... so we got VERY close to a wild bison with no walls or protection besides our Mercedes steed. Gorgeous animals with a frightening amount of power.

… so we got VERY close to a wild bison with no walls or protection besides our Mercedes steed. Gorgeous animals with a frightening amount of power.

A clutch of wildflowers amidst the sun-baked grasses of the prairie.

A clutch of wildflowers amidst the sun-baked grasses of the prairie.

This was one of several eastern cottontail rabbits whose reaction to us (potential predators) and the baking 100 degree heat... was to just splay out in the shade and not run from us. It was too hot to run.

This was one of several eastern cottontail rabbits whose reaction to us (potential predators) and the baking 100 degree heat… was to just splay out in the shade and not run from us. It was too hot to run.

One of a slew of mule deer (with their distinctive mule-like ears) we carefully watched for as we drove through the refuge.

One of a slew of mule deer (with their distinctive mule-like ears) we carefully watched for as we drove through the refuge.

One of two or three magnificent red-railed hawks we saw as we drove, this handsome fellow was kind enough to land on a power line frame for me to grab ~a thousand photos so I could pick out this, the best one, to post here.

One of two or three magnificent red-railed hawks we saw as we drove, this handsome fellow was kind enough to land on a power line frame for me to grab ~a thousand photos so I could pick out this, the best one, to post here.

A storm front drifted in over our prairie, as seemed to be our luck on this Colorado excursion.

A storm front drifted in over our prairie, as seemed to be our luck on this Colorado excursion.

But once again: we toured those unpaved backroads in our brand new Mercedes-Benz, with a storm brewing, and wilderness all around. It was fantastic!

But once again: we toured those unpaved backroads in our brand new Mercedes-Benz, with a storm brewing, and wilderness all around. It was fantastic!

To our chagrin, there was one summertime animal we did not lay eyes on while driving through – the bull snake, which looks like a rattlesnake.  But, on the flip side, we were thankful to have seen so many incredibly creatures again thriving in a piece of the earth that humanity once despoiled, and then rehabilitated into viable lands for nature anew.

Casa Bonita

We made quick time through the rain-drenched city of Denver to the Mecca of Mexican food in the area, hoping to sneak in and out quickly and then return our rental car.

For those who do not know – there is an entire SouthPark episode on Casa Bonita, which features Cartman singing about it to the tune of La Cucaracha.  The clip calls the restaurant the Disneyland of Mexican Restaurants, which is one opinion about it – but Casa Bonita certainly takes live entertainment and staying in character very seriously.  This clip from the episode is NSFW for but also hilarious – and also the song we sang multiple times over the course of the week leading up to our last night there.

A cathedral to crappy Mexican food and amazing live entertainment

A cathedral to crappy Mexican food and amazing live entertainment

The artsy posted warning - you will be entertained for free, but each person entering must pay for a full entree.

The artsy posted warning – you will be entertained for free, but each person entering must pay for a full entree.

Even if you pay for that full entree, the delightful pun/signs explain, you will be getting a deal.

Even if you pay for that full entree, the delightful pun/signs explain, you will be getting a deal.

Sadly we settled for the pun, as we couldn't get in to "si a good show"

Sadly we settled for the pun, as we couldn’t get in to “si a good show”

The waiting room we saw was suitably "authentico Mexicano" or whatever they would label it - and the establishment features a 30 foot tall waterfall with cliff divers.... so in many ways it is too bad we didn't get into the establishment.

The waiting room we saw was suitably “authentico Mexicano” or whatever they would label it – and the establishment features a 30 foot tall waterfall with cliff divers…. so in many ways it is too bad we didn’t get into the establishment.

So: sad that we didn’t get into Casa Bonita proper, but we were exhausted and ready to get back to the hotel. So we returned the car, and had yet another lovely Lyft experience.  In this case: the quintessential Coloradan white stoner dude.  Baseball cap; Nissan pickup truck with an interior that smelled overpoweringly of weed being masked by too much smelly spray of some sort; he rocked out to Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” with full body dancing and thumb drumming on his steering wheel as we drove; and just a general propensity to giggle uncontrollable after each and every thing he said to us.  Part of the Gen-u-ine Colorady Experience, I guess.

In Summary:

And so we slept our last night in the lovely hotel, and woke up early to check out and have perhaps the best Lyft experience of the trip.  Deena, a cosmetologist with a glorious sense of humor… and also a propensity to conspiracy theory.  So we got to have interlocking conversational moments about how she bought wirelessly controlled fart noise emitters and always sticks one under her dad’s favorite easy chair when he visits… and then we got the whole “just Google search World Trade Center 11 and you’ll find some scary truths, man” types of tinfoil hat moments.  A long drive to the airport – but also a fun and entertaining one:

Deanna and I modeling the two Lyft mustaches in her car, as Richard and Sophia can't help but smile.

Deanna and I modeling the two Lyft mustaches in her car, as Richard and Sophia can’t help but smile.

Denver is a relatively high volume airport based on our experiences, but their TSA helots seem to be pretty efficient at their job.  We made it through quickly, admiring/questioning the weird artwork as we went…

The Denver airport's artwork is well-known for being weird and at times, macabre.

The Denver airport’s artwork is well-known for being weird and at times, macabre.

Fascinating art, but weird as all hell.

Fascinating art, but weird as all hell.

Sitting near our gate, we ate our overpriced airport food and waited for the Southwest sky-wagon to allow us to board, so it could take us home.  I got a seat I rather enjoyed:

I paid the $40 upcharge as we waited to board our Southwest return flight, meaning I got to choose my seat earlier than most of the rest of the flight. So I grabbed the seat immediately behind the seat immediately behind the captain, and a slew of extra leg room to boot!

I paid the $40 upcharge as we waited to board our Southwest return flight, meaning I got to choose my seat earlier than most of the rest of the flight. So I grabbed the seat immediately behind the seat immediately behind the captain, and a slew of extra leg room to boot!

We made it home, safe and tired, after a wonderful time together in Colorado.  Denver and the wilderness alike, we took it all in during our whirlwind of a visit – and I am thankful that it was such an excellent experience.

Colorado Trip: Rocky Mountain National Park; Roosevelt National Forest; Pawnee National Grasslands

 

The road to the Park's entrance had some lovely views of its own.

The road to the Park’s entrance had some lovely views of its own.

It just seemed right to get a photo with trees, grassland, mountains, and the open road to start this post – because this was exactly what our day consisted of.  Our planned route looked something like this:

mapped route - Home 2 Suites to Rocky Mountains through Roosevelt Forest to Pawnee Grasslands... back to the hotel.

mapped route – Home 2 Suites to Rocky Mountains through Roosevelt Forest to Pawnee Grasslands… back to the hotel.

To be sure: it was a very, very long day in the car (and in my case, driving).  A car too small for us but also very comfortable.   Regardless: I really pushed for us to have a day of natural wilderness in several forms – and this, we got thoroughly over the course of the day!  We started at…

Rocky Mountain National Park

This national park is made of a 48 mile main road (Trail Ridge Road) and then the optional 11 mile switchback-laden, guardrail-free Old Fall River Road… presumably named for all the cars which have fallen off the damned thing). We decided on doing ~25 miles, up to the Alpine Point tallest point in the park, and then turned back around.  Photos of this initial portion of our outing are as follows:

Officially entering the park, though we had been through the Rockies at length already over the whole week.

Officially entering the park, though we had been through the Rockies at length already over the whole week.

As previously mentioned: touring the Rockies... in *style*

As previously mentioned: touring the Rockies… in *style*

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Arguable the coolest part of the trip was experiencing the alpine tundra above 10,000 feet of elevation, with the attendant leftover snow in August, herds of elk, lack of many trees at all, and thin oxygen.

But mostly, the views were just glorious:

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A portion of a 150-200 strong herd of elk on the alpine tundra.

A portion of a 150-200 strong herd of elk on the alpine tundra.

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Nice marmot, Dude.

Nice marmot, Dude.

We reached the halfway point going up, turned around, and made our scenic way back down, exiting this park and instead entering the winding road extending through the…

Roosevelt National Forest

A location I was hoping to see anyways, it worked out well that we needed to drive through the forest on our route east.  And what a Coloradan forest it was, with all the rocky outcroppings; coniferous trees; small rivers and streams with multiple signs warning about climbing to safety during a flash flood.  The usual!

Another park, another handsome sign.

Another park, another handsome sign.

Wildlife crossing signs in the area are different, and big horn sheep-oriented.

Wildlife crossing signs in the area are different, and big horn sheep-oriented.

The typical view in the portion of the Forest we drove through - a series of pine trees, jagged cliffs, and some streams. A beautiful backdrop for our traffic-free drive.

The typical view in the portion of the Forest we drove through – a series of pine trees, jagged cliffs, and some streams. A beautiful backdrop for our traffic-free drive.

We (eventually) got out of the winding Forest roads and onto the open road to a larger suburb of Fort Collins CO – and then we QUICKLY made our way directly east, to the…

Pawnee National Grasslands

The final stop for the day was the most dissimilar from the rest of our (mountainous) trip.  We drove very (very, very) fast eastward, trying to beat the setting of the sun and getting ourselves ensconced deeply into the prairie proper, to get the real flavor of the place.

Luckily for us: the prairie was functionally empty of humanity AND extended into eternity… so we had plenty of space to ourselves:

Perhaps the best example yet I have encountered of "the open road" - our view into the grasslands

Perhaps the best example yet I have encountered of “the open road” – our view into the grasslands

At first we didn't really think much of this sign - until we began to rack up the miles driven at 80mph east into the unending grasslands, and found all manner of unmarked and/or unpaved roads...

At first we didn’t really think much of this sign – until we began to rack up the miles driven at 80mph east into the unending grasslands, and found all manner of unmarked and/or unpaved roads…

We followed the GPS to wherever it said “the national park” was located (more on that in a second) and it took us down some rather rough roads indeed:

... unpaved roads like this one.

… unpaved roads like this one.

As we continued, we actually got some grand photos of the fauna.

The Wildlife Shots Section:

Coyote, running scared from our big, mean Mercedes

Coyote, running scared from our big, mean Mercedes

A pronghorn, dashing away

A pronghorn, dashing away

The GPS, it turns out, led us to a random privately owned farm in the middle of NO WHERE on a road marked “not for public use.”

A road which we sort of drove down to see what was there (nothing but a gorgeous sunset across amber waves of grassland):

"Amber waves of grain*" *or a grain-looking substance

“Amber waves of grain*”
*or a grain-looking substance

The storm front rolling in which gave us the heat lightning show.

The storm front rolling in which gave us the heat lightning show.

An entirely non-creepy misty graveyard on the middle of the open prairie in Nowhere, Colorado, as the sun sets in the background.

An entirely non-creepy misty graveyard on the middle of the open prairie in Nowhere, Colorado, as the sun sets in the background.

I kept us in the area as the sun set, as I was really hoping that being so, so very far in the middle of nowhere would give us a pass on light pollution and allow us to see the stars in their unimpeded brilliance.  Instead, the aforementioned storm system rolled in and we got front row seats to…

The Heat Lightning Show:

One of the first bits of heat lightning we caught in a photo, it is still light enough to see the water tower and work lights on the horizon.

One of the first bits of heat lightning we caught in a photo, it is still light enough to see the water tower and work lights on the horizon.

IMGP5436IMGP5468IMGP5479I will say: the heat lightning show on the prairie after dusk with no other humanity besides us around = my favorite part of the trip, in retrospect.

I did try and take a single decent shot of the night sky – and this was it, complete with a streak of a passenger plane/UFO on the right of the frame:

Finally, the cloud-ridden shot of the sparse starfields visible that night on the prairie

Finally, the cloud-ridden shot of the sparse starfields visible that night on the prairie

At day’s end, the sun long since set, we drove our way out of the prairie, and eventually again reached towns, and then cities, and then the highway, and finally (in an exhausted state, after singing most of the Hamilton musical’s lyrics from memory as the slap-happy kicked in), we got back and promptly passed out.

What a hell of a great day!

Colorado Trip: Garden of the Gods; Pike’s Peak

At the day’s start, we again enjoyed the delicious continental breakfast at our hotel –

Garden of the Gods

After some driving and traffic,  we reached the aptly-named Garden of the Gods, near Colorado Springs.  The drive itself was gorgeous enough…

Even with the worst of traffic, driving in Colorado often means a gorgeous view on either side of the road.

Even with the worst of traffic, driving in Colorado often means a gorgeous view on either side of the road.

But even with traffic, it was the first glimpse at the park which told me that we made the right choice in venturing forth:

Our first glimpse of the reddish stone outcroppings which characterize the Garden. No gods were available for comment on their Garden.

Our first glimpse of the reddish stone outcroppings which characterize the Garden. No gods were available for comment on their Garden.

The rocks went from their constant grey and tan mottled appearance to a striking, vibrant reddish/orange.  These only got better as we drove into the park.

Along those lines: the whole “people in Colorado spend most of their free time outdoors and in the wilderness as they have nothing else to do” is very true based on the sheer amount of traffic we encountered 1) in the wilderness between two cities and 2) at each location we decided to go to.  Even the touristy sites like the Pike’s Peak cog railroad had a slew of Colorado parking plates in the lot.  No matter.

Just to give a sense of how incredibly cramped (but comfortable) the compact C Class was for our group of tall adventurers.

Just to give a sense of how incredibly cramped (but comfortable) the compact C Class was for our group of tall adventurers.  I spent a great many hours staring at the purdy 3-pointed star on the comfortable wheel… wishing I could stretch my legs out more than “not at all”!

Us: "Oh maybe we'll get out and walk some of the trails." This sign: "Live rattlesnakes present." Us: "Nope!"

Us: “Oh maybe we’ll get out and walk some of the trails.”
This sign: “Live rattlesnakes present.”
Us: “Nope!”

The weather was gorgeous, the park was delightful, the company was excellent.  A good start to our day.

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So much natural beauty - it was often a challenge to frame shots with, to pick and choose what we'd like to be with us in the frame!

So much natural beauty – it was often a challenge to frame shots with, to pick and choose what we’d like to be with us in the frame!

The "Balancing Rock" doing its one and only trick

The “Balancing Rock” doing its one and only trick

Simply gorgeous.

Simply gorgeous.

I love this Bob Ross/galaxy shirt I found. Also: Nature purdy.

I love this Bob Ross/galaxy shirt I found.
Also: Nature purdy.

We grabbed lunch at Adam’s Mountain Cafe, and the vegetarian fare was actually quite delicious.  We had a bit of time to kill so we thought we might take our time driving through the touristy area up to the Pike’s Peak railway… but traffic was horrendous due to tourists and scant parking (another consistent feature of Colorado, we found), so we slowly inched our way up to…

Pike’s Peak

We reached the parking lots for the Pike’s Peak Cog Railway, with our pre-purchased ticket confirmation ensuring us a seat on the train and a copy of this handy dandy topographical map with its concerning choppy altitude gains over short distances:

A map of the cog railway up to the top of Pike's Peak

A map of the cog railway up to the top of Pike’s Peak

And the pre-purchase of the ticket turned out to be very necessary – all 240 odd seats on our train were filled to the brim!   We had a sizable and energetic Nebraskan family next to and around us, their kids being the most energetic of the bunch.  At a certain point – a 6 year old asking how steep a hill is before it is impossible to climb is a trap one never escapes.  It may even become a black hole – we weren’t there long enough to find out.

The cog railway is not named idly - it uses this pair of toothed rails in the middle of the normal rails, with cogs on the bottom of the train driving the train along the teeth. This is how it can climb inclines (up to an insane 25% grade, at one point).

The cog railway is not named idly – it uses this pair of toothed rails in the middle of the normal rails, with cogs on the bottom of the train driving the train along the teeth. This is how it can climb inclines (up to an insane 25% grade, at one point).

Me, being incredibly uncomfortable due to the immense height of the mountain and the immediate drop to either side of the train at times. OOOOOF.

Me, being incredibly uncomfortable due to the immense height of the mountain and the immediate drop to either side of the train at times. OOOOOF.

As the above picture fully shows, I am *not* a fan of heights, and this trip was certainly a good series of boundary-pushing experiences on that front – but we just kept going up, with people and possessions alike sliding off the seats at times!

Ahead, the next train up is visible on the steep slopes.

Ahead, the next train up is visible on the steep slopes.

The insane road up to Pike's Peak which none of us felt comfortable driving. Especially me, the driver. Thanks, cog railway!

The insane road up to Pike’s Peak which none of us felt comfortable driving. Especially me, the driver. Thanks, cog railway!

Arriving at the peak, nothing immediately felt that weird.  For me, walking didn’t affect me – but jogging up a very slight incline to get a photo before the crowd got into the frame and I was definitely feeling the altitude.  Astonishing, the sensation of the body realizing “OH RIGHT – THE AIR ISN’T ACTUALLY GOOD HERE… I OUGHTA SIT DOWN REAL QUICK” was for each of us in our ways.  Not Richard – that fit SOB skipped around and was basically there to tell us “… WHATEVER.”

But my goodness gracious, the views were excellent.  Being so high in the air meant that the weather shifted with ease (there was some snow on the ground when we arrived; it was clear as we got off the train; a cloud rolled in and made it “foggy”; and then near the time for us to depart one side of the mountain again became clear, where we took our group photo below).

All of that said: I still do not trust heights, as they are likely out to get me.  But I am thankful we got to have this great experience pulling a Leo, and being on top of the world.

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To quote someone on the trip, though this is a 14,000+ foot peak, “its not a real 14’er”

The three of us, the super thing oxygen content around us, and dat view tho

The three of us, the super thing oxygen content around us, and dat view tho

I captured a big horn sheep in the middle of this frame, amidst the alpine tundra of the mountaintop.

I captured a big horn sheep in the middle of this frame, amidst the alpine tundra of the mountaintop.

The trip down was tiring but fruitful (see the big horn sheep above) in its own way – and the peak was just such a rush to experience in person, that it made the lengthy train commuting on either side well worth it.

We zipped over to the nearest Crave Burger at the suggestion of Google, and Google slam-dunked that one.  Our food was amazingly delicious (and, if you peruse their menu, wildly unhealthy as you’ll see).   We drove back to the hotel and a coma once again ruled supreme for each of us.

And so, the fourth day of our trip ended. The best, as you’ll see, was yet to come.

Colorado Trip: Rental/Mercedes; Denver Botanical Gardens; Exploring Boulder

So as mentioned in our previous post because it was such an awesome part of the trip… we got that brand new Mercedes-Benz on Saturday morning, Day 3 of the trip, from a quiet neighborhood a bit west of downtown.  We took approximately a million pictures of it (Turo is clever and allows both owner and renter to photograph the car and load the photos to the app, to make arguments over “well it wasn’t like this BEFORE the trip” invalid in many cases).

A cautious drive over to the middle of town (a fast little car, and also an expensive one – even with the premium insurance covering me, I wanted to be careful!), and we made it over to the…

Denver Botanic Gardens

The Botanic Gardens (it still throws me off that it isn’t the typical “botanicAL gardens”) were our first stop, what with their free parking, their open air enjoyment of the Denver venue (unlike the museum the day before, what with its being packed to the gills with children).  We met up with an old friend and coworker of Sophia’s, and we walked through the various segments of the garden.  The unexpected big deal: a corpse flower had actually bloomed the night previously, which is a once-per-decade occurrence, so we got to see it at its peak bloom:

The aptly named Lil' Stinker, a freshly-bloomed corpse plant

The aptly named Lil’ Stinker, a freshly-bloomed corpse flower

The focus of our visit was more on the Colorado and southwest United States areas of the gardens – as we wanted to get a good sense of what we might see.  Perhaps a bit unsurprisingly, we saw: a series of rocks, tall grasses, coniferous trees, and then interspersed blossoms.  All of it beautiful – but none of it worth reproducing here as the rest of these blog posts will cover it in full.

Instead, enjoy an idyllic Japanese-style aquatic plant spread from the Garden:

One of the ornamental lakes in all its blooming finery

One of the ornamental lakes in all its blooming finery

A nice little jaunt, if you will, through some lovely gardens – but at a certain point we were experiencing a deficit of further Garden to explore, versus a surplus of hunger and desire to go see Boulder.

And so: we again took up our mechanical steed and made for the nearby Boulder.   As our Lyft driver has told us the previous day (in between his explaining how much he loved his recent trip to Germany with his brother; and how much he hoped to become a computer hacker by just attending the upcoming DEFCON hacker’s conference in Vegas) – the Denver 16th Street Mall was OK… but the Boulder Pearl Street Mall was filled to the brim with street performers, and hippies, and weed burnouts, and other noteworthy experiences.  Thusly, we departed for…

Boulder, CO: The Pearl Street Mall

We arrived and found some delicious free public parking in a parking garage (Thanks, Saturday!) and immediately got out and searched for food.

Thankfully we found likely our favorite meal in CO: Illegal Pete’s.  In short: an organic and yuppy-focused version of Chipotle but hot damn was the food good.  A chicken burrito bowl is easy… but with the huge dollop of fresh pesto they added, I was in heaven.

After eating our fill (or perhaps a bit more than that), we ventured out and walked the entirety of the Mall, seeing musicians…

Small guitar best played while balancing atop a bass. FYI.

Small guitar best played while balancing atop a bass. FYI.

… other life performers like this fire juggler who stopped and called out “come on, its a kid – this isn’t lighter fluid on the ground, its just water!” and then the ENTIRE crowd left him.  Disappointing!).

A rather disappointing fire performer.

A rather disappointing fire performer.

We heard a talented old yogi babble about the need to really pop the bones out of your sockets; we heard giggling stoners; we heard local couples dish on the annoying visitors; we heard visitors dish on the weird habits of the local couples.  We saw artwork, we saw cheap touristy crap for sale, we walked through stacks of delicious food and junk food alike.  A little bit of something for everyone, on the Pearl Street Mall.

Very Coloradan artwork - people running near a mountain with decent weather in evidence.

Very Coloradan artwork – people running near a mountain with decent weather in evidence.

That said, though, we decided to then do the native Coloradan thing, and fit in some serious nature time to our day – we drove our way out of the center town and began the ascent at…

Boulder, CO: Flagstaff Mountain

Our final stop for the day was to the Flagstaff Mountain overlooking Boulder.  We initially missed our turn and got to experience our first light mountain driving, stopping off a few times at (what turned out to be the norm for Colorado:) unpaved gravel parking lots for just 3 or 4 cars off the sides of major roads, so people can stop and soak in all the nature, or hike, or get photographs.

We also encountered the first of multiple dead-serious signs about escaping flash floods:

The first of several brusquely honest (but helpful) signs near Flagstaff!

The first of several brusquely honest (but helpful) signs near Flagstaff!

We soaked in the wilderness, but eventually realized we went way out of the way – we turned around and got back on track, and we went UP.  Mini switchbacks, small (15%) grades in the road, no guardrails.  Pretty unsettling to drive up, but also a good warmup for the following days of Rocky Mountains experience.

Plus, we got some beautiful views of the mountain and its sister rocks:

Damn nature, u purdy.

Damn nature, u purdy.

Another helpful sign - always remember to fight back against the bears and mountain lions!

Another helpful sign – always remember to fight back against the bears and mountain lions!

A wedding was just departing, leaving us the amphitheater they used (and leaving me with yet more evidence that the most expensive wedding venues have almost no correlation to their suitability for special days), and again served mostly to whet our appetites for the amazing vistas and gorgeous overlooks to come:

A lovely little amphitheater overlooking downtown Boulder, atop Flagstaff

A lovely little amphitheater overlooking downtown Boulder, atop Flagstaff

We drove back, tired from a long but good day, and again marveled at both the scenic vistas on either side of the highway… and also the huge amount of traffic around us.  After all: the saying we were told, that in Colorado everyone goes out to enjoy nature and sports in one form or another as there is nothing else to do… proved to be true!

A double rainbow outside of Boulder (the second is faint but on the right side of the frame)

A double rainbow outside of Boulder (the second is faint but on the right side of the frame)

Evergreen, CO: Willie Nelson’s chosen bar

We ended our day by driving to the nearby Evergreen, as the suggestion of a girl at our hotel, to get a genuine Colorado small town experience… and also so we could go to The Little Bear Saloon.

A poor photo as the sun set, but we went and experienced the grease-splosion food... and the live music which spent 45 minutes tuning and testing mics.

A poor photo as the sun set, but we went and experienced the grease-splosion food… and the live music which spent 45 minutes tuning and testing mics.

Greasy and unsanitary, with food that left a lot to be desired… the Little Bear is also known for being the bar that Willie Nelson would consistently visit with no warning and just play live shows at.  None of us three were big fans of him before our visit (nor, I can safely say, after our departure) but it seemed like a good choice to hit the place while we were near it.  We had the experience, we departed, and we got to do some twisty/turny roads between us and the hotel – another good bit of warmup for the days ahead!

All told: our third day was a great one!

Colorado Trip: Getting Settled; Denver Museums; 16th Street Mall

So.

After a very lengthy hiatus from blog posts in particular, and also from any sort of prolonged relaxation, I made plans this past May for a trip out West with my friends Richard and Sophia.

We discussed options (Phoenix AZ; Portland OR; and Denver CO) and we settled on going to Colorado.  Tickets for the plane, and a room an at an extended-stay hotel, and we set up our 7 day escape to the Rocky Mountains and surrounding wilderness!

A quick flight via Southwest and the attendant red-eye hours (we woke up at 3:20am to catch our flight), and the trip was off to a sleepy and relaxing start.  Which, surprisingly, was exactly what we all wanted and needed.  Continental breakfast, and then naps for my companions; I dove into some paperwork and phone calls that needed completing.  Quickly, we found out that our carefully-laid plan (to rent a car and drive around) was greatly endangered by the weather – prior to our arrival, severe hailstorms across the state had damaged thousands of private vehicles.  In many cases, the cars were written off by insurance as totaled – and so, every single rental car company was tapped out.  Empty.  Used-up.  Incapable of renting us a car.  So a good part of the early trip I spent on the phone trying anything to get us a rental car.

A long story short – we found out about a company called Turo, which is like AirBNB but for cars.  In other words, private parties rent out their vehicles; Turo provides the liability insurance in case the renter hits someone; and then the renter can elect to purchase insurance for the vehicle they are driving (as we assuredly did).  In our case, we had two options meeting our prerequisites: All Wheel Drive, and a built-in GPS.  There was a Subaru CrossTrek which looked nice; but there was also a 2016 Mercedes-Benz C-Class for a mere $97 per day.

As you can imagine, our choice of rental car was pretty easy to make:

Touring the Rockies in style.

Touring the Rockies in style.

But before we got the car, we did spend the second day of our trip, Friday, in Denver doing a couple of fun things.  We got there using a combination of Lyft/Uber (more on these in a future post) and then the light rail system, which was actually quite fast and easy to use:

The Light Rail into Denver. It crosses and parallels the streets in many cases.

The Light Rail into Denver. It crosses and parallels the streets in many cases.

The Denver Museum of Nature and Science

The main event for Friday was the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.  We did not have a car yet; we did want to see some of the things Denver was well-known for and we looked forward to the air conditioning and (we presumed) the relative quiet of the museum on a week day.  It turned out to be a madhouse of school kids as the school year had not yet started up yet.

The Museum’s main attraction for us was the visiting “Robot Revolution” exhibit, put on by Google and Boeing.   The large exhibit hall was packed to the brim with all manner of robots for different purposes, some of which I have included below.

The Robot Revolution - so named because "Terminator" was already used for a motion picture.

The Robot Revolution – so named because “Terminator” was already used for a motion picture.

Cute... but potentially deadly. Robots can no longer be trusted.

Cute… but potentially deadly. Robots can no longer be trusted.

We enjoyed many of the exhibits, because they showcased an uncanny set of skills for automatons to possess – and in some cases, they demonstrated the ability to do tasks that human beings cannot or should not attempt to do safely (especially the robots designed for examining hazardous waste sites).

Smaller crawling robot...

Smaller crawling robot…

... larger climbing robot.

… larger climbing robot.

Some of the robots were more of a showcasing of clever motor controls and games (like the ennui-stricken tic tac toe bot, below) – but some of the industrial and research applications of these mechanized minions was astonishing.

The most bored-looking tic tac toe robot ever seen.

The most bored-looking tic tac toe robot ever seen.

The balance of the museum was interesting in its own way, with excellent fossils (many of which were pulled from the soil in Colorado!) and wildlife exhibits,

One of multiple fossilized reasons why I do not trust any sizable body of water. Ever.

One of multiple fossilized reasons why I do not trust any sizable body of water. Ever.

We made our way out of the museum and over to our next destination using Lyft, and a young lady who was an interesting mix of interests (a self-described homebody who knew all about which bars to avoid; someone who had heavy metal blasting on the  radio but wore clothing which was not in any way the typical metal-head’s clothes) named Honor drove us over to…

The 16th Street Mall

Many people in Colorado advised we spend time on the 16th Street Mall, a pedestrian-focused series of store fronts in the midst of Denver, and so we did so. None of the stores were especially noteworthy per se; but with wide sidewalks and constant free shuttle bus services up and down special streets on the mall closed off to normal traffic, it was clear that the municipal government was rather strongly interested in people spending time and money alike on the mall!

A grand old advertisement

A grand old advertisement

One of the more vibrant examples of street art we encountered in Denver

One of the more vibrant examples of street art we encountered in Denver

All around Colorado, there are plenty of ads warning against the effects of consuming cannabis and then driving

All around Colorado, there are plenty of ads warning against the effects of consuming cannabis and then driving

We did enjoy the walk, and most assuredly felt the effects we were warned of time and again – that the elevation (~6500 feet) was going to quickly and thoroughly dehydrate us.  We stopped into the famous Tattered Cover used book store and were accosted by some rather committed Occupy Denver types who were illegally using the steps of the shop to feed homeless folks (and, they explained, they choose to feed the homeless from the steps of the bookstore weekly because the bookstore’s owners voted to outlaw “urban camping” as a way of kicking out the homeless).  It was an interesting juxtaposition of doing right while also breaking the law to make an additional point.

For comparison purposes: a private individual on a bike purchased several dozen bagels from an Einstein Bros and balanced them all on his bike.  We then watched him slowly stroll down the 16th Street Mall and approach homeless folks, and offer them free food.  No preaching, no political message – just a normal guy doing a good deed with his spare time.   My preference, of the two acts of kindness we witnessed along that Mall.

The gold-encrusted state capitol building in Denver, as seen from the 16th Street Mall

The gold-encrusted state capitol building in Denver, as seen from the 16th Street Mall

The first bison we saw on the trip.

The first bison we saw on the trip.

Our meal was at Marg’s (as in margaritas), a trendy urbanish taco place with a series of very loud local drinkers and delicious food.  We tried our hand at Uber to take us to a board game store (as we didn’t have time to see anything else that night and a game sounded fun) and again our Uber/Lyft luck was hilarious.  First: we had an older guy whose ride-giving app (Uber in his case) didn’t correctly “pick us up” and so he advised me to “just CANCEL” the ride, multiple times. I explained, truthfully, that I had never previously used Uber, and asked how to cancel – to which he just insisted further that I JUST CANCEL IT – and then he offered to just drive us for free.  At least, until, we advised of our far trip to the game shop.

Instead, we got a total surfer dude transplant from California who complained of how expensive the cost of living in the Denver area was becoming; and told us of how even with marijuana being legal, people in Colorado REALLY liked to party hard (eg with hard drugs) like in southern California. He dropped us off to the poorly-named Denver Central Games, which was located far to the southeast of the center of town, and it was again interesting to approach a local person and hear an earful and a half about how truly horrible weed tourism has been for the area… and how much more awful all the people moving in to get access to weed have been, driving up costs and making jobs and housing scarce.  This is an echo of my taxi driver polling while I was in the Middle East – but in my experience, the people least expecting to be asked their opinion on something can often have a delightful flavor of genuine truth to their off the cuff responses!

I snagged a copy of the excellent game Suburbia at the shop, we started to sit and learn it there… and then our exhaustion from the time zone change + busy day kicked in, and we got another Lyft driver with his interesting stories about the area (and how to properly speed in certain areas with impunity) as we drove back to Highlands Ranch and our comfortable beds at the Home 2 Suites there.

A real Hummer, with the soft top for summer cruising, and best of all - vanity plates "GOTSNOW"

A real Humvee, with the soft top for summer cruising, and best of all – vanity plates “GOTSNOW”

All told: a successful beginning to a grand trip!

Runner up for best CO license plate, after the Humvee

Runner up for best CO license plate, after the Humvee