On the road, from CO to UT (or summer travels: Part Three)

What follows is a lightly edited and mostly stream-of-consciousness travel log of my journey from Florida to California and back again.


20160521 – Saturday

It’s 430a and we are settled into the hotel just outside of Denver, our mad dash to the mountains completed— never really stepped foot onto Kansas, but I’ll explore these flat plains some other time.

My partner handled the final leg of the steady highway drive into the city. Caffeine in my body had waned around midnight so she took over in the moonlight. Moon is just about full, if not tonight then tomorrow. She had been lighting our way progressively stronger since our departure from Tampa almost exactly a week ago, a waxing moon. She’ll lead us to California, then begin to wane as I explore the northern bits and wax again as i return to the east.

The caffeine had a second wind after a bit of shut-eye. Awake while my partner drove, I found us a hotel to crash into (the one I’m writing this in now, a Holiday Inn by the airport). Took a while to find a place with vacant rooms, just for this night into morning— as we checked into our accomodations, we found out why.

About four weeks ago, there was a rally scheduled for 4/20, but was postponed due to weather until this weekend. It’ll be interesting to explore Denver with this humming in the background. Can’t wait to explore the city, it’s been calling to me for a while now, and I’m glad for the timing.

During the hum-drum of this past year of medical school, I had a bookmark for cheap flights running out of Tampa to destinations within the continental US. Usually, these flights are posted last minute, in order to fill seats. I always wanted to escape tropical Florida to explore Denver for a weekend, poking in and enjoying the Rocky Mountain High.

Instead, I arrive in a Holiday Inn at about 3a, with sleep strangling the both of us. We check in, and immediately try to start winding down— caffeine surging through our veins, we are not awake enough to drive further, but not tired enough to fall asleep.

Our solution? Drink lots of wine. It worked, we passed out until about 11a, when the sun poked through our east-facing room.

The next day was a rough one: between the altitude change and the sleep rhythm disruption, I was running at about fifty percent. And the hangover didn’t help the situation. I had known that the elevation change up to CO would be a whole process, but I didn’t realize how deeply it would affect me, making all biological processes from the solidity of my stools to my ability to bounce back from a hangover to soft tissue pain in my IT band due to dehydration. Additionally, I hadn’t pulled an all-nighter since college, almost a decade ago— my partner was a bit more experience with them than I, which is why she took the final approach to the lovely city.

So, I was moving slow. Luckily, we got a late check-out upon check-in so we weren’t kicked out until 1p. The only things on the agenda for the day were to visit a gym for my partner to lift (YMCA all the way!), and to explore the city.

This was our first real stop on the road-trip: the implicit understanding being that everything between ATL and KS consists of lovely campgrounds and KS is a big flat sprint to the Rocky Mountains. This meant we deserved some sightseeing and the touristy bits— we ate some sushi, visited the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, participated in a bike share with a ride through the city, and explored the world of cannabis dispensaries.

The lovely counterculture revolution highlighted by the 420 rally is centered in Denver, CO, and not visiting a dispensary here would be like skipping Bourbon Street in NOLA. We visited Good Chemistry, a small dispensary on the main street of Denver. The shop was arranged in a bar-style, with an expansive and detailed menu showing on large flat-screen TVs. The baristas were of many different ages and backgrounds— one black fella with a goatee and an outback-style hat, a long-haired white kid in his mid-twenties with a many-pinned lanyard, and everything and everyone else in between. The customer base was equally diverse with same-sex couples that looked adorably similar and older fellas with veteran hats and exactly who you’d think would be visiting a dispensary.

After a pretty full day of exploring the city and people-watching its inhabitants, we got back in the Camry and set our sights to the behemoths of the West: the Rocky Mountains.

Our aim was to drive about an hour or two deep into the mountain roads and find a campsite for the evening. After a bit of spotty-service phone research, we realized that most campgrounds weren’t going to open until the following weekend, Memorial Day, and the start of camping season in the high mountains. Once we really hit some altitude, we understood why: the temperature dropped a good ten degrees in as many miles, the wind was a different kind of beast up here, and the snow-capped peaks were close enough to reach out and caress.

So, we drove until Frisco, a tiny mountain town with a main street, just like you’d see in a western. The only signs of modernity, at first, were the heavy-duty construction vehicles in the center of town, performing some sort of essential road maintanence. And we stayed in the Hotel Frisco Colorado, a tiny little inn that had the right amount of folksiness about it.

We unpacked the automobile and took two different paths: my partner threw on some jeans and grabbed the keys to explore the nearby wilderness— Frisco is nestled on all sides by strong and comforting mountains. It was about 7p, and we had an hour or two before sunset proper. She took full advantage of these hours, taking to some trails.

I, on the other hand, streamed some TV shows off my phone, drew the curtains to block out the amber setting sun, and set about falling into a deep slumber. My circadian rhythm was all sorts of out of whack, my leg was throbbing with every other step, and a biting headache was setting into place. I figured my best bet to adapt to the altitude and to recalibrate my sleep schedule would be to close my eyes for a very long time.


20160522 – Sunday

Woke up this morning a little slow, still got some residual atiltude adjustment to complete. My partner went about preparing the ritual day-starting coffee and I tried to rub the sleep out of my eye. A cold shower did the trick: the water here gets VERY cold, and a solid minute of breathing and dancing in the bathroom slapped me awake.

We packed up the room, my partner heading to a nearby laundromat to perform some very necessary clothing worship and I loaded up the vehicle. From there, I wandered over to a nearby coffee shop to post the 20160522 entry.

While editing, I struck up a conversation with a resident of this small CO town, who seemed to know just about everyone walking through the doors of the establishment.

Doug Masiuk, not to be confused with the recent On Death interviewee Doug M, is a Type I diabetic who was the first TID to run across the country. We chatted about his past, what led him to running competitively and his time in NYC, as well as the future of medicine with Quanitified Self, FitBits, and Continuous Glucose Monitors.

During our conversation, we met Slim, a mid to late forties self-described bum who skates and loves talking about skateboarding. Apparently, Slim is a local fixture of the Frisco community and I noticed some handwritten signs in the napkin dispenser that read “SLIM 4 FRISCO MAYER” and a well-designed flyer claiming “Slim DeCamp! Make Frisco Great Again”.

Doug left the shop after talking and enjoying his iced coffees– as of writing (20160522), I just met Doug and have sent him a message asking him to be a guest On Death. Hopefully he responds, as we are in town for another night (the first time on this trip we are spending two nights in the same place!) and the only thing on his menu for the day is an hour-long training run.

So, I’m caught up to reality, ready to make some more things to write about, as my partner has finished her research work for now and we have some trails to explore!

The coffee shop, Rocky Mountain Coffee Roasters, was a lovely place to get work done. From there, we walked along the construction of main street to the car, loaded up for an afternoon’s adventure, and then set off for the trail that Doug told me about– about a mile into the southern border mountains, we’d find Rainbow Lake.

A snowmelt fed lake, bristling over the edges with the spring warmth melting a great deal of the snow-capped mountains, a lovely destination. So, I packed up a 1″ slackline, two hammocks, some water, and a blanket and started the easy hike.

The hike, from a technical perspective, was very easy. Nice clear paths, good gravel, nothing too slippery or wet. But for us sea-level adapted folk, we were huffing and puffing pretty quickly. The lake, more of a spring-fed pond, was bounded by mountains to the south, the valley of Frisco to the north, and saddles to the east and west. The breeze was strong and cold, flowing over the Rockies and through the lake.

When we crested the last hill, we found a group of thirty to forty year olds playing with their dogs, who were playing in the water together. One fellow was giggling and shouting at his dog, who was having as much fun as he was. We decided to circle around, get a lay of the land and find a quiet flat spot.

Our decision to explore put us in a solid ring around the lake, as well as a few side expeditions to parallel streams. By the time we had almost circled back to where we found the group, we set up our hammocks in a side clearing, surrounded by pine.

The pine blight and its subsequent destruction had etched itself into my mind, as the sheer dead biomass in the Rocky Mountain views startled me. It seems like the only trees my eyes could identify were white birch trees, the bark a bit thicker and tougher looking than my New England varieties, and needle pines.

I set my hammock between a dead and living pine, overlooking the water. We deserved a good sit and ham sesh, so we laid and did nothing for a while. Before packing up, I knew I would be getting in that water, somehow.

I have been following Wim Hof, also named the Iceman, for a good portion of 2016– his Method involved regular and controlled cold water exposure combined with a breathing technique that looks an awful lot like preparing to freedive. Long and short of it: my partner looked out for fellow hikers and explorers while I got naked and squatted into the cold Colorado mountain snowmelt lake. A lot of breathing and one loud howl later, we walked back down the trail to Frisco as the sun traced its set along the eastern mountain ridges.

A quick pitstop at the Hotel Frisco Colorado to move stuff into our new room (same hotel as last night, different floor for the lodging second time around) and we were off for a lot of tavern food under the blanket of stars, before the moon rose to illuminate the quiet mountain town. We ordered a whole lot of food for the road tomorrow and ate our fill at the table.

Afterwards, we waddled back to the hotel on the same main street, just a few buildings away. My partner’s turn to fall asleep early, I read on the second floor lobby, with a balcony overlooking the entrance. Once the moon rose, I transitioned outdoors hoping to hot tub while listening to podcasts under the brisk Colorado nightsky.

Unfortunately, the hot tub closed at 10p, and so I grabbed a number of blankets from the car and built a nest on the back porch and stared at the stars while listening to the Tim Ferriss Show. My partner went on a quick walk, waking from her slumber in the name of research and data extraction.

While she typed away on her computer, on that second floor balcony, I fell into a lovely sleep, after a nice slow day in the middle of a very interesting road trip across the country.


20160523 – Monday

Out of Hotel Frisco, partner grabbed even more road food before checking out, a tasty egg wrap. Headed west, aiming for some wifi around lunch, for partner’s skype research meeting at 1p. Found a cute little coffee shop called Blink near Grand Junction, in the quiet mountain valley town of Mesa.

The birds were so happy and chirpy while I lounged in the lush grass, stretched and did some yoga while my partner conferred. After her meeting, we laid in the green and enjoyed the day before shooting for Utah: Manti Lasal National Forest.

Drove twenty minutes up and down gravel roads, passing only two cars as the sun made its way to the horizon during the move deeper into mountains and the park. When we stopped to investigate possible campsites, an almost deafening silence filled the gorgeous scenery.

Set up camp a bit off the road and path, down a slight slope facing the east. When picking the spot, I snuck up on a stocky and well-muscled deer, who was as surprised as I was. Felt like a great spot.

Slept under the lush carpet of stars with my partner aggressively snuggling me for warmth and love.


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