For the first time in a number of years, it appeared we did not accidentally spill the beans on the surprise destination for the Big Country family trip. It was our first time flying since COVID and the airport was a different place. For every person, there seemed to be a unique mask. Some wore face shields and masks. They checked our temperatures and we boarded around 9pm. We had heard airlines were spacing passengers....not Frontier!! They had actually oversold the flight and it was PACKED!
After landing in Denver we picked up our Dodge Hemi truck and headed north to Fort Collins where we would be staying for 4 nights. We were staying in a Condo in the Old Town North area. We had rented via AirBnB and it turned out the owner grew up in Carmel and went to Brabauf high school. It was a great place.
Early the next AM our internal east coast time zone clocks went off and we were up and at Walmart at 7am to get food for the week. Our first adventure was a drive around Rocky Mountain National Park. Due to COVID (a statement we might say too often in this journal), the park was allowing a limited number of visitors and you had to obtain a pass ahead of time. Most of them sold out when they first went on sale in June, but there was a few afternoon openings when we first checked. We arrived right at noon to enter the park. There is a one way drive named Old Fall River Road that is only open July - Sept. It is was the closest experience to a US Safari that we've ever experienced!
We did a small hike up the ridge at the Chapin Creek Trailhead and had a picnic lunch. During lunch, we were treated to a free seminar on how to "out-run, out-juke and out-climb a grizzly bear" by JAK Kolb. The seminar ended with the speaker wildly demonstrating said tactics. This nearly resulted in large pain to his lower-unit when he slipped while jumping up on a large downed tree that to his surprise was shockingly slippery without bark.
We then crested the Fall River Pass and did the return drive on the paved Trail Ridge Road where we encountered rain and heavy cloud cover at 12k+ feet elevation.
We only had a short time in the park because we needed to be back in Fort Collins by 5pm to pick-up the next catalyst for adventure. We had such a great time biking around Bend, OR last year, that we decided to try it again as we'd heard Fort Collins was also extremely bike friendly. We left the truck at Pedago and did a 9 mile loop back to the condo taking the Spring Creek trail to the Poudre river trail. We took an Uber back to get the truck and picked up Bajeaus Pizza on the way home and then hopped on the bikes to get ice cream from Walmart, only to find it closed at 8pm.
The next AM we had to be online and ready to get one of the 75 RMNP passes that they released 48hours before entrance. We did not get the 6am or 8am slot we hoped for, but thankfully snagged a 10am entrance time for Tuesday. We headed out on what we were referring to as the Epic bike day. It was Sunday AM and the streets were wonderfully quiet. We toured around the beautiful campus of Colorado State University.
We then hooked back up with the east bound section of Spring Creek trail, took it out towards the east side of town which is buffered by Horsetooth Reservoir. From there we caught the Fossil Trail south and headed towards Loveland, CO. All the trails are wide and smooth. Mom and Dad both knew the mapped out route was 58 miles and spent little time using the electric pedal assist or throttle throughout the morning. When a bathroom/snack break occurred at 10:30, they were still at full battery, while those with a heavy throttle thumb were already down a bar:)
It was decided that doing the entire loop around Loveland was probably too much riding for the day, so we opted to find a lunch place on the north side of Loveland, refuel and work our way back. "Serious Texas BBQ" hit the spot. Some still had room for ice cream from Freddy's.
We made our way back and decided to try the e-bikes off the paved trail in Pineridge Nature area. They handle well on the gravel although you do have to be careful with the throttle because the fat tires will slide on loose footing....as JAK would find out later. We came across a small single track that JAK wanted to try. A nice local couple gave their input (he said no, she said yes,) on whether the e-bikes could handle the trail and it was decided the girls would do the loop around the Dixon Reservoir while JAK and Dad attempted the trail and we'd meet back up. The bikes did surprising well, however with the heavy weight and many jagged rocks, there were sections of the trail we had to walk. The throttle can be used to get over roots and rocks without having to lift the bikes thankfully.
After meeting back up, we started to head out when JAKs chain came off his bike. Upon fixing it, Dad noticed that the top pocket of his backpack which was strapped to the rack on the back of his bike had been wide open since the point he applied sunscreen before the single track. There were a dozen or so items in the pocket, most of it snacks etc, but only one real item that mattered.....his iPhone wallet with license, credit cards, and cash.....and it was gone! Dad had to remove his phone from the case to mount it on the bike handle bars for navigation.
JAK and Dad headed back to the single track. They split up and headed in from opposite sides stopping any and all bikers and hikers encountered to ask if they had seen it. No one had. We headed back to the Condo racing to catch-up with the girls. Off of the paved trails, there are many 'dirt' side paths. JAK veered onto one going around 15mpg and found out how easy a 60lbs bike can go down. Thankfully, the bike and boy were both ok,, another near trip to the ER avoided! A win for the day. About 15 minutes later, Dad's phone popped up a text: "Hi Jason, this is Travis and I think I found your wallet case today when I was running down by Dixon Reservoir today." Anther big win!! He lived only a couple miles away so we biked over. There are a lot good people in this world and Travis is one of them!
We made it back to the condo a little before 5pm. Mom and Dad headed immediately back out to check out Fort Collins famous micro brew scene. Due to Covid, places were open but with limited outdoor seating and by reservations only. The first choice was Odell's but they were a 45 minute wait. In a small 1 mile block there are at least 5 breweries. Red Truck was closed but Snowbank Brewing was open and we tried their Habenero IPA. It was great - spicy! Odell's texted that our spot was open so we headed back there and enjoyed the great outdoor area a hazy IPA.
Back with the kids we headed to get Sushi on the bikes with Dad wearing the large backpack cooler from Cordova. When we parked the bikes in the garage for the night, the odometer read over 50 miles for the day.
Day 2 of e-biking! There was one major section of the Powder trail we had not yet explored. We headed northwest after our daily egg and sausage burritos. This was our favorite multi-use trail in Fort Collins.
Our destination was the ride, but we also scoped out a lunch spot a couple miles after the trail ended. The Howling Cow Cafe sits on the dairy production site of Noosa yogurt. Their setting is beautiful.
On the return leg we noticed a side detour for a fish hatchery.
The was a reservoir connected and we enjoyed watching a trusting mother mule deer let her baby float/swim across the Poudre! (Video to be added)
It was time to return the e-bikes so we did one last trip down to the CSU campus and then the girls headed for a treat and the Pedago shop while JAK and Dad did the long loop at top speed back up to the condo to get the truck. We had to do a few extra blocks at the end, but ended with 100.1 miles on the bikes!
On the drive back we swung into Raising Canes Chicken. Multiple people had recommended and it was good. Enough time on road, it was water time. The condo had 3 tubes available so we picked up what seemed to be the last place that carried tractor inner tubes in town at Big-O-Tire. We parked by the Poudre and hiked upstream and put in just below the first portage damn. The river was fairly low and we spent about as much time hung up on rocks as we did floating, but it was fun. We had left our phones at the condo but Melissa asked a lad on the bank to take a few pictures and text them to us! Another great soul in Fort Collins!
The girls did a second run (the black tubes were much more fun) and JAK and Dad made a trip to JAX sporting goods to check out the Sitka wears.
Tuesday was slated to be our “long hike” day in RMNP. We took a more southern route into the park and stopped at Camp Malo and St. Catherines Chapel on the Rock.
Tim and his wife are docents and because we arrived just before they opened the chapel, we received a bit of a private tour and history lesson. The Chapel was built in 1933 after the bishop had started a very successful summer camp years earlier. In 1993 during World Youth week, Pope John Paul visited the property:
[pics to add]
In 2013 the basin where the church sits had a massive flood. At the time, there were many building on the property. Only the church and the small lodge/gift shop were left standing. The water crested to the top of the rock. The rock on which Christ built his church has much meaning here.
We had decided we wanted to do the hike from Bear Lake trail head into Sky Pond or one of the many lakes along the way. The two parking areas you can access that trail have very limited parking, and we had read the first one fills by 6am and the other by 8am. As we passed the first one with only 6 or so spots, all full, we started to come to terms with the fact we’d probably have to head back to the shuttle park and ride. But as we approached Bear Lake, BAM, there was one spot open! We felt bad for the 3 cars that had been tailing us up the mountain as we wiped in. Because of the late entry and risk of afternoon lighting we decided to do the 2.7 mile hike into The Loch v. The 4.5 miles to Sky. It was a good decision because it was already raining when arrived.
But shortly after we started out in our rain gear, the sky parted and the next 1:30 hours we had amazing weather.
We made it to The Loch, just as the wind and rain returned. We snapped a few pictures and quickly refueled before heading back down.
On the drive back we made a stop at 2 JAXs and a Sportmans Warehouse so JAK and Dad could check out the hunting gear and pick-up a surprise piece of gear for Wednesday’s adventure - Disk golf!
We hit the road at 7:03 (3 minute late;) and headed north and then east. We pulled into the lot of the Our Lady of Peace shrine in Pine Bluff. The shrine sits right on the border of WY and NE. NE was one of 7 states for the girls and 6 for JAK that they have not yet visited. We said our family travel prayer and a couple intentions and headed to disk golf.
JAK and Dad have played Frisbee golf a couple times, but the girls had never played. It appeared we picked the most challenging course in America to get the hang of it! The first tee we never found the hole down below in the trees!:
There wasn’t a hole on the course where you could see the basket, and for all holes, it took 5 minutes+ of hiking and exploring to locate. But outside of kicking a couple of cactus plants and a couple occurrences where we thought we had lost one of our new disks…it was great and going back to play in Carmel will seem so much easier!
Next stop was Cheyenne where we hit the Sierra Trading Post HQ and found many good deals….enough deals that one of our deals ended up being a new piece of luggage to get everything home….. (but hey $45 for a huge wheeled bag and we needed a new one;).
We picked up sandwiches at The Bread Company and headed to Laramie. A quick drive through of the University of Wyoming.
Then a walk through downtown and a few hard dipped ice cream cones and we headed to the WY Game and Fish which turned out to not have the maps or a gift store Dad thought it had and to add insult, they directed us to the USFS office to get maps which was also closed due to Covid. Dad’s planning doesn’t always work out.
We drove across the Snowys. It was around 50 degree on top.
We did a quick stop at the Medicine Bow Ranch where we introduced the girls to their host for horseback riding the next day and then made our way to the Saratoga Hot Springs Resort where we had dinner and then soaked in the hot springs.
The kids also explored the 1/4th size version of western chess.
The next morning, Dad’s east coast alarm clock went off and he left us to sleep while he did a driving tour of Saratoga. The mule deer and sunrises from town are epic, although the one bakery in town that served coffee was closed for 4 days to cater a single wedding. He visited the Kum & Go for coffee.
At 8:30am Dad had arranged to pickup a 2 door jeep so he and JAK could go scout their Sept elk hunting area. Unfortunately, the young man who happened to be on his last day on the job, found both rental jeeps to be DOA. He didn’t know how to jump or what to tell Dad which put the situation into tense mode as the girls needed to leave for their 9am horseback with our one truck. After radio to a manager, the situation was resolved and the boys headed out with an industrial jump starter. The jeep had 163k miles and even more chips in the paint but it did the job. As Dad would later explain - if a jeep can be that abused and still get us through the mountains, I’m sold and we should look for one for JAK.
The girls went on a horseback ride led by cowboy Tim. Tim and his wife Debbie own the ranch and are amazing hosts. Dad’s goal when scheduling the ride was to find a non-nose-to-tail trip since the girls had been there and done that. Tim and their horses Rocket, Kiki, and Mona exceeded the bill on their ride.
Then they had lunch back at the ranch and were able to continue their conversations with amazing hosts.
Meanwhile, JAK and Jason were putting the haggard Jeep to the paces and it lived up to the task. First, JAK needed to learn to drive a stick which he did in fast order once they were off the highway.
Then they head through Medicine Bow national forest to the tallest peak in the area Blackhall Mountain. When they reached the base of the final approach, Dad said he would attempt to drive to the top and they switched drivers. The climb included a number of boulders and was really better suited for an ATV. About 100 yards up the climb, the jeep decided to lose power and died. Dad locked in the brake and announced it was time to hike!
The top was windy (as it always is) but the view was excellent.
After having lunch on one of the outcroppings, we hiked back down to rescue the Jeep with a slow neutral role to the base. They spent the rest of the day driving the national forest roads scouting the area before returning to Saratoga at 5pm.
We walked Saratoga that evening and went to Bella's Bistro for a late dinner. On the way we encountered a large friendly malamute, many mule deer, including a coupe Dad wanted to tie up for hunting season!
The next AM Mom and Dad went on a driving tour around Saratoga and tried to get into Mount Baldy, but there was a large wedding and security was especially tight…but they did get to enjoy a 10 minute encounter of a fawn mule deer and neighborhood cat that made them laugh
We packed up and headed south with a stop in the boys hunting area and a 5.5 mile hike on the east fork of the Encampment river where we hiked off trail to find a lunch spot by the small river.
Then we continued south to CO. Our stop was Winter Park, CO where we stayed in a condo across from the main lodge.
The next day the boys had bikes rented and were the first people in line,
And then up the gondola
Soon we were at Sunspot, and place we know well from winter skiing and the girls met us.
The boys spent the day flying down the mountain while the girls hiked the mountain in 1/2 the time they where told it could be done.
That night we went on a hike up the mountain after it had closed and explored what a black and double black Mountain bike downhill trail involves. There were 25’ drops and other features that amazed us all - and made Dad and JAK glad they focussed on the Greens and Blues!
With a 10:50am flight, we left the condo at 7am. The pass in the summer is much more predictable but just as pretty.
We encountered our first full hazmat suit as we boarded.
And again it was bittersweet to be home and reunited with Lena and The Fuzz who had been well cared for by great friends while we were away. Until next year!