Category Archives: Road Trip 2016

Bear Necessities

You know how when you’re out in the woods you hear weird noises? We were camping on our second night in Aspen, and I woke up in the middle of the night, or early in the morning, to hearing somebody throwing a bag of ice around. I couldn’t tell if it was in our campsite or not! I lay there quietly, assuming it wasn’t, because that would be super weird. There was a lot of footsteps, but no noises, no talking, and I decided not to wake Louie up because I didn’t want him making noise. I was pretty sure there wasn’t anybody in our site, who would do that? Or we were getting robbed and I didn’t want the person to notice our tent, as there were no footsteps coming near. I heard somebody rattle what sounded like our bear box (that’s a box where you are supposed to keep your food) and then all was quiet, so I went back to sleep. I had a variety of dreams of waking up and finding that somebody had set their tent up next to ours!

We were in bear country. If you camp a lot, you know exactly what I mean. It seems that every campground has different rules. In Yellowstone they made you sign something agreeing—all your food must be kept in your trunk, all your toiletries that were scented also. No food, water, or scented toiletries (i.e. toothpaste, lotion, etc) in the tent with you. You had to wash your dishes in a certain sink, and make sure that all your trash was in special bear proof trashcans.

At the Difficult campground, they gave us our own bear box. And we usually kept a clean camp, put everything away. But there were a few things: one was that there wasn’t anywhere to wash dishes—they just told us to throw our water in the woods. And that the picnic table had a sign saying to put your things in your car.

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Not only the bear box, but the car. The camp host had told us to use the box though…and laughed. But we had gotten “home” late and forgot to cover or move the cooler.

I woke up early, and got out of the tent to go to the toilet. I figured I’d see that everything was fine. But it wasn’t. The first thing I saw was shattered glass, and thought, OH MY GOD we’ve been robbed. And then I realized our car had been attacked by a bear.

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The bear pulled the top of the car door down and removed the lid of the cooler and threw it on the ground. I started freaking out and yelled for Louie to get out of the tent and come see. We were both in total shock for a bit!

After awhile we started cleaning up. I was worried about the glass at first, but it was safety glass which mean it wasn’t as sharp as window glass would be. There was ice and melted water all over the backseat and the clothes. Most of the damage was on the window though, and nothing on the upholstery, thank goodness!

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If you look you can see the dirty pawprint from the bear shaking this box. This is a bear box. If we had put our cooler in it we might not have had the bear attack. I do take the blame for it, but I’ll say this: I had never heard of this sort of thing happening before—I’d heard that bears would rip into soft top cars and tents, but not metal! I’d also add that the sign on the picnic table at the site says put food in the bear box or a locked car, which we did. And I’d also think that putting dishwater wherever you wanted would attract bears! So we were to blame, but there were other factors. And honestly, I think maybe people in tents shouldn’t camp at the Difficult Campground at all, and they should just say that. We found out later that another car was broken into and a “bear proof” cooler was broken into by the bear that night, and a few campers SAW the bear trying to break into their bear box.

(A google search found that a few years ago the problem at the campground was bad and they banned tents, but lifted the ban. I wonder if they told anyone after our attack?)

So here we were, at the beginning of a 3 week road trip, with a messed up car! We panicked for a few minutes, but then decided to try to do something. We had to drive into Aspen to make phone calls (nothing at the campsite available, no phone other than one for local calls which didn’t include 800 calls, and no pay phone) so we did that, carefully, and after checking with the insurance that it was allowed, Louie and I headed to a hardware store to try to fix up the window.

It ended up working really well. Louie managed to bend the metal back up, added plexiglass, and taped the whole thing with a combination of duct tape and gorilla tape. We realized pretty early that the entire door would need to be replaced, so putting tape on it wasn’t a concern.

We spent a few hours at the True Value in downtown Aspen working on it. The employees there were both really helpful and incredibly nosy too Smile Everybody kept coming out to see the car. People said that this kind of thing happened a lot (news to us, and I’ll bet to most of you) and that bears break glass doors, eat out of the trash, break into cars, etc. I ask, what is Aspen doing to help (the answer seems, very little) and I also ask, why don’t more people know about this? Honestly, we didn’t realize how bad the problem was, and we likely wouldn’t have camped. Maybe that’s why they don’t tell people? Or do they just think all towns have major bear problems? I don’t know!

I do know a few things; I won’t be camping there again, and we won’t be underestimating bears again.

We got the window fixed up though, by lunchtime (a waste of a morning, but it could have been worse!) and thankfully I’m dating an engineer who worked in remodeling and construction and knows how to make stuff work really well! And even though we wouldn’t be able to open that door for the rest of the trip, at least we didn’t have to cancel our trip.

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(I couldn’t find a better picture of the car, but you can see the tape here and how well we fixed it up!)

So, that’s our “best” story from the trip. Our car got attacked by a bear. Oh, and he ate the rest of a bag of Trader Joe’s peanut butter pretzels, 2 apples, half a tub of hummus (left the rest), and even a beer. There was a can of beer that had a claw mark and had been drained. (Louie has a picture I know, but I don’t have it right now. I’ll share it later if I can find it from him!).

Sigh. What a day.  But we weren’t hurt, and the upholstery wasn’t hurt, the insurance would cover it (minus the deductible) and the trip would continue!

Days camping: 2 night

Official hiking miles: 13.5

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