Got everything together the night before. For some reason, Vicki was very tired and for once I ended up organizing everything. Oatmeal, sugar & cinnamon, salt/pepper shakers, extra salt. Packed the stuff for trail mix, all the jerky. Got all my stuff together and was in bed by 11:30.
Unfortunately, I couldn't sleep. Vicki got up at 4:30 -- I may have had about 3 hours of sleep by that time. I was planning on getting up at 5, but since she had gone to bed at 9:00 ... anyway,it worked out. We got out on time and got to Sam's and picked him up just before 7:00 am. Stopped and topped the gas off ($1.99 -- won't be that cheap in Colorado) and took off.
My little FM transmitter that lets us play my mp3 player through the radio in the car died halfway to Kansas City. We stopped at a Wally World and got another one that cost about twice as much as this one -- and it worked great. Plus it lets you tune anywhere on the dial instead of just a few frequencies on the low end.
I brought my GPS with topographical info on it. Sam brought his with roadmaps, directions, and ETA estimates. Between battery chargers, cell phone chargers, my blue tooth headset, the MP3 player, the FM transmitter, my GPS and Sam's GPS -- not to mention his Nikon and my Pentax digital SLR's ... we figured we had enough technology in the car to get to Mars -- or at least maybe open a Best Buy somewhere.
We got to Colorado Springs at around 6:30 local time and checked into our Motel 6. We figured we just needed a place to crash -- and that's pretty much what we got. But it WAS cheap. They had "continental coffee" in the ... office in the morning. Whoo-hoo! And they had hot water, towels, and soap. What more do you need? Oh, I forgot about the 19" TV. Well, we got the Tigers score (we won!) and the Weather Channel. What a forecast!!!!!!! Pretty much Sunny all week except for friday.
We had our hearts set on Joe's Crab Shack for dinner. Vicki and I had eaten at one for the first time in Colorado Springs in 2001. It was fun. So we struck out to find it. We got bum directions from the motel staff (one exit too late). We knew there were two in Colorado Springs. And I knew the one they directed us to wasn't the one we'd been to. We had street addresses and tried to use the GPS, but Sam hadn't loaded street/direction data for CO Springs, so we were guessing. We drove about two miles past where we thought it should be and came back. Decided to go look for the one Vicki and I had been to downtown. But that exit was closed for construction, and we meandered around trying to retrace Vicki's and my footsteps from 2001 in spite of the construction. Finally, we stopped and asked directions at a gas station, and they directed us back to the one up north.
By this time we were pretty hungry. With sure-fire directions in hand, we struck out on 25 North. Got off at the correct exit this time. Drove past a Super WalMart and a few other places -- and there it was. Only something wasn't right. The sign wasn't lit up. And it was dark inside. We went around to the parking lot...
Well, no Joe's tonight. We went to "On the Border" -- a Mexican chain we'd never been to before (and most likely won't go to again) and Vicki's and my meals alone came to like $48 (before tip). It was good, but it wasn't THAT good. But at that point we didn't care (much) anymore.
Back to the motel, and crash.
There was a Waffle House nearby, and we had a nice breakfast there with some interesting local color. Drove up the road a half mile to get a nice gander at the snow-covered Pike's Peak, and then headed down toward Pueblo to catch 50 into Cañon City to see Royal Gorge.
Royal Gorge, we all understood, was a tourist trap -- but one worth seeing once. Big wooden-plank suspension bridge you can walk, bike, or drive over (for $21 apiece). The bridge itself was pretty neat, and the canyon was interesting. The surrounding tourist trappings were ... lame. I mean, lame, lame. You expect them to be lame. This was really, really lame.
But then we went back into town to eat lunch at Pizza Madness, reccomended by Linn. It was good. Like, Sub Shop meets Shakespeare's (for those of you familiar with Columbia). The proprietor (or at least the manager) was an attractive middle aged woman who was working right in there with the wait staff. There were fiberglass (or paper machette) sculptures of bugs and aliens, and a very strange pizza-eating orgy painted on one wall. Good pizza & beer, then off again.
Frankly, Cañon City is only at about 5,000 feet. Here I am, a day and a half into my mountain vacation -- and I'm thinkin' it's about time to get some 'tude!!!!!!!!!
So we drove North up the Arkansas River Valley quite a while. We slowly gained altitude, and soon the Collegiate Peaks began appearing on the left. And much to my relief, we saw colorful aspen groves spilling down the mountainsides, and majestic snow-capped 13'ers and 14'ers. I wanted to stop and take a picture or two, but Sam was driving and he was all business. We were getting to the cabins. And it worked out just as well.
We got to the cabins around 5:00, and we moved in. Still too early for dinner -- we decided to head up to Independence Pass to make sure it was open. The signs on 24 said it was, but according to some confused motorists coming back down it, a sign further up 82 said it was closed. We figured the signs on 24 probably weren't lying, but there was one way to find out. (our first look at Mt. Elbert, from the cabins -- the peak to the right is it)
I was pretty happy about this decision. I love looking up at the mountains. I love hiking in the pines and aspens. I love sitting beside a rushing mountain stream. But I love nothing more than being above the tree line, in God's Country.
As we drove up the pass, I could feel that familiar euphoria building. Ever-changing, breath-taking scenery, and the road going up, up, up -- to that special place I can't explain to anyone who hasn't been there, and don't have to explain it to most people who have.
There was a lot of snow. I was hoping for an Elbert climbing attempt Wed or Thur, because the last forecast I saw showed some weather coming in Friday. I wasn't sure how deep it was above the tree line. I started to doubt whether a summit climb was possible. (note the lens flare in the picture to the left-- I got that a lot on this trip as aspen leaves look best with the sun shining through them. I need a huge hood for shots like this. Don't have one)
We got to the pass, and it, of course, was beautiful. 13er's and 14er's all around, snow everywhere, and a couple of frozen lakes. There was a short hike to a lookout point to the southeast, and we took off for it.
In places, the snow was more than knee deep. Vick's leg went way down once and she fell in it. It was typically about mid-calf. First big snow of the season, and a rare early one (for that much snow) for late September. Usually their first big one comes about a month later than that. The sun was setting, and it was cold. We needed some food for the week.
"On the day that John Wayne died, I found myself on the Continental Divide. Where do we go from here? Think I'll drive in to Leadville and have a few beers." - Jimmy Buffett, Incommunicado
And that's what we did.
(well, sometimes lens flare "works")