And so it begins…to Aspen

I love traveling. I love planning travel. AND I love writing about travel after the fact, but I’ll admit it’s the most daunting and perhaps the least fun part of it. This past trip was a doozy! How do I write about it? The best way, I suppose, is simply to put my fingers on the keyboard, have my photos at the ready, and GO!

So. We set out on a lovely Wednesday morning towards the end of July. My sister Carrie had been staying with me for a few days (we’d even gone on a float trip with her-it was a raincheck from Memorial Day that needed to be used) and she was staying behind for another day. Timing…but she was able to dog sit for a bit and then my friend April would be doing so afterwards (until she moved to DC, so sad!)

Louie and I planned to drive to Denver in one day. It’s a long drive, but possible. The following day we had reservations at the Difficult Campground in Aspen, so we wanted to get a good chunk of the drive behind us.

I’d been a little stressed out about my trip planning. I’d made a few rash decisions on camping reservations (based on availability and panic) and we were moving around nearly every night! I’d also really wanted to go back to Rocky Mountain NP for a few days, but then it ended up we wanted to be in Aspen for a few days to visit Louie’s dad, and then the timing got mixed up and our itinerary had us backtracking several hours. I have some regrets…but I’ll consider them things to learn from, and honestly, most of it worked out pretty well and we got to see more than we might have otherwise. But there were stressors, and things I was worried about, more so than in previous trips.

We’d tried to organize the trunk in a certain way, in order to facilitate staying organized. Over the next week or so things would solidify into a true plan, but there were some bumps. Here’s the trunk starting out!

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Note: car camping for three weeks out of a Toyota Corolla is a challenge. Plus I’d purchased some of my favorites from Trader Joe’s, since I didn’t think we’d encounter any of those along the way, and it took up a fair amount of room. The backseat had the cooler, various shoes, all the clothes, backpacks, and camp chairs. Here you see the food, dishes, stove, sleeping bags, and the tent and sleeping pads (thermarests) are in there too. There are three bins with different categories: food, food prep, and non food prep.

Anyway! A tradition of driving to Colorado is stopping in Kansas City at Arthur Bryant’s for barbecue. On the one hand, I’ve become mostly a pescatarian. On the other hand, I said mostly.

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I had the burnt end sandwich with beans and it didn’t disappoint. And the pickles! I am such a pickle lover. Why, yes, I’m waxing poetic over the pickles on a barbecue platter.

Anyway, the day went by uneventfully. Missouri goes by quickly, Kansas takes longer.  And then there’s that part of Colorado that really just seems like it should be Kansas.

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The wind farms are always fun to drive by, and we were just pumped up to finally be on vacation and hitting the road. It’s been a hard year, a stressful year, and we keep trying to get away and relax. Spoiler: we didn’t relax on this trip, but we did get away.

We’d hoped to find a cheap hotel in the Denver area but failed. I wanted to have a chill night of oh, let’s just walk into a place that looks good, as one would have on a road trip 30 years ago. But I instead started to panic and ended up spending way too much on a terrible Motel 6 near the airport. Oh, and we had dinner at McDonald’s along the way and got to watch part of the DNC…doesn’t that seem so long ago? McDonald’s has “fish” sandwiches, which are actually pretty terrible, but not too bad for food on the road I guess.

The morning came and with it, a nearby Denny’s. When the calorie counts are listed on the menu you find yourself ordering things like fruit and whole wheat pancakes.

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This guy was both creepy and a little adorable. 60/40? 30/70? Anyway, then we hit the road. Into the mountains of Colorado we went!

On the way to Aspen Louie’s dad recommended we try a hike called the Shrine Pass hike, which is just on this side of Vail. He described it as “easy” so we forgot that 8000-10000 feet of altitude requires some adjustment. I was getting visually a bit blurry after we went through the Eisenhower Tunnel, and was super thirsty and a bit headachy…this should have told me something. In a nutshell, the hike was extremely challenging. I was short of breath and felt terrible! I should tell readers that I spent two summers in Breckenridge at a music festival, and firstly, I love the area: Breckenridge is like heaven, and secondly, altitude is no joke. It can take a few days to adjust, and one at mile high wasn’t enough.

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The baconesque popcorn was really puffy from the altitude!

The hike was probably really beautiful (it was, really) but I was feeling pretty awful and it was too hard. 4.2 miles round trip.

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Okay, sure, Colorado is beautiful.

After the hike we hit the road again towards Aspen. We had a reservation for 3 nights at the Difficult Campground, a few miles from the town of Aspen. Louie’s dad was working there for a bit and he wasn’t sure if he would have room for us to stay with him.

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This raccoon was posing and begging for us, but we know better than to feed wild animals. Well…mostly.

We got to the campsite and had to set up the tent and everything, and then he came to pick us up for dinner.

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We set up the tent towards the back of the site.

It’s hard doing things normally while camping. For instance: our campsite didn’t have flush toilets, only vault toilets and water out of a spigot. So we couldn’t shower or freshen up for a dinner out very well. When you are camping and hiking and only around other people doing the same things, this isn’t a big deal, but when you are hanging out with people who are staying in a real house with running sinks and showers and wearing regular clothes, it’s odd. I had to reconcile myself to the fact that I wasn’t as put together as I would have liked to be, but the dinner sure was delicious.

The next morning we took a hike that left right near the campsite, called the Difficult Trail.

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The description of it, in an old book, said that it was 3 miles one way and that there was a point where the trail wasn’t maintained anyway, but you could pick your way through for awhile. The trail was quite steep at first, but it was really nice, shady and in the woods.

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Lots of boulders and trees and cool stuff to look at. We had a few times where we had to climb over some logs and follow cairns but didn’t think too much of it until the trail ran out entirely, and we realized it seemed we’d gone about 4.5 miles!

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So I think we actually hiked all the way to the end of the UNmaintained part before heading back: I’ll say 9 miles RT. It was nice though, and then we met up with Louie’s dad and wife, and walked around Aspen for a bit. We’d thought about having dinner at the campground due to their work schedule, but ended up having a later dinner at their condo. We didn’t get “home” until nearly 11 pm and were exhausted: that’s very late for camping since the sun tends to wake you up early!

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So that’s enough of the first post here. Our plan for the next day was to wake up early and do another hike. I want to keep track of our hiking mileage too.

Hiking so far: 13.5 miles

Days camping: 2 nights

2 thoughts on “And so it begins…to Aspen”

  1. When you’re on the road, anything goes! That means eating meat and at McD’s!

    Did Louie’s Dad let you shower? That would have been my one request.

    I really don’t know how you hiked that much in high altitude. I’m tired reading about it and it’s only the first post!
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