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Traveling America in a VW Van – pt 9

Traveling America in a VW Van – pt 9

Leaving the Rockies

Or so we thought. We woke at what was now a familiar view on the side of State Rd 7.

“Time to head out of town?”

Wrong. We knew instantly that we should have gone back to the shop in Loveland rather than turning around days before. Good thing I have AAA. They towed us to a local school parking lot that was within the 7 mile limit and offered us a push to get her kick-started. Nothing. We were left at the bottom of the school parking lot until the tow shop reopened tomorrow. Guess this is a good time to wander around. We walked to a nearby gas station to use their outdoor plugs and find some ice for our ever-soggy cooler. Later, we cooked some all-too familiar pasta while we listened to the rodeo announcer a few blocks away.

The next morning, we woke with frustrations and worries about what to do next. A few hours on hold later, we managed to get a tow to take us back to the shop in Loveland. I smooshed in the middle seat next to our driver as the bus was raised onto the back of the tow bed. It was a sad day on our journey, but it meant we were one step closer to figuring out what was wrong with our home on wheels. On the bright side, we twisted through Roosevelt National Forest for the third time and listened to the stories of Scotty and his life in Estes Park, CO.

We pulled up to the shop and were welcomed by Pat and Matt, the nicest mechanics on the planet. Pat even let us take his VW to the grocery store for lunch while he worked on our bus. About 30 minutes later we were coasting back on i-70 heading further west. The temperature was dropping quickly and so was our oil pressure. It seemed like we were chasing the sun as we climbed higher and higher over the 14,000 ft peaks as dusk was looming overhead.

“Do you think we’re going to make it over the mountains?”

“I sure hope so”

We passed signs that claimed the speed limit was 70, although the tick on our speedometer would not move past 35. My palms were sweaty from the anxiety as the night grew darker and our cell reception wavered. I am still surprised that the bus was able to make it over the Rockies. Soon enough the mountains rounded and rolled into the flat plains of western Colorado. Okay time to sleep.

Traveling America in a VW Van – pt 8

Traveling America in a VW Van – pt 8

Rocky Mountain National Park

It was time to trek over the famous Trail Ridge Road, the only way to get to the other side of the park. We chugged up the mountains and curved around bends as the air thinned and the wind sped up. Eventually, we were driving on the ridge lines of the Rockies.

“Can you believe we are 14,000 feet in the air?”

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Twisting and turning and the smell of other cars burning through their breaks welcomed us to the top of the world. We cruised past glacial fields of snow and herds of elk eating the grass. I couldn’t count the number of times I screamed “wow look at that!” during our drive across the great Rocky Mountains.

“How do you think people got across these mountains before roads?”

“They used wing suits of course.”

A few hours later, we made it back to (relatively) even ground on the west side of the park. On the hunt for a campsite, yet again. This time, we decided to splurge and stay at a real campsite rather than the side of the road. This was mostly because we were running low on water and had a pile of dirty dishes to clean. We managed to find a spot and set up for dinner outside. We watched the sun creep behind the mountains and welcome in the stars around us before heading off to sleep.

An early morning wake up call was not welcomed here as we packed up our bags to head out on a backpacking trip. Packed up and buckled in, we were eager to head out on the trails for the next two days. Again, the bus had other plans. It took all of our effort and resources, but we eventually got her started with the help of a park ranger. He towed the bus out of our camp spot and then helped me push her until she roared to a start. That was a close one, but we were finally off to our destination near Grand Lake.

We found the trail head and headed out into the wilderness for the weekend. We were lucky enough to snag a back-country permit near a great stream and waterfall. It was time to set off on our adventure so we meandered through a The beginning of our hike was slow and smooth as we passed through flowering meadows and ponds. Then up, up, up we went towards our destination. It was then that I understood the importance of good backpacking gear. We had our sleeping bags tied on our packs with rope and water bottles swinging from their carabiner clips.

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“Sleeping bag down!” I yelled every few minutes as I watched Conrad’s careful arrangement unwind in front of me. Eventually we made it to a nice stopping point near the falls and ate our PB&J lunches while fighting away flies.

“Time to keep moving”, Conrad nudged me to get up and finish our hike. We crossed stream after stream on little wooden planks until we made it to a secluded camp site off the main trail. A little bridge helped us across a creek that flowed heavily below us. It was time to set up camp and take a nap under the pines. Later, we hoped over trees that had succumbed to being eaten by the pine beetle and made dinner on a log in the stream. After some chilly baths in the stream, we nodded off to sleep, wrapping ourselves in as many clothes as we could find.

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Morning came again and so did the time to pack up our stuff again (it’s a lot harder to fit it in your pack the second time). The hike back was accompanied by several “Ow I’m sore” comments as we set out to finish our 15 miles. We stopped at the same waterfall again and enjoyed chatting with a local woman who does interviews with tourists. She saw our Lifestraw and wondered how a tiny little thing can filter so much water. We ended up taking a wrong turn on the way back and did part of the loop on an equine trail. We spent a lot of the day dodging poop and holding our breaths. At this point, we resorted to holding our plushy sleeping bags and battling through the hike. Finally, we landed eyes on the bus and were happy to be home.

Now, we headed back over Trail Ridge Road and got to see the other side of the beautiful Rockies as our time here came to a close. It was too late in the day to move on to our next destination so we decided to stay another night in the Rockies. We found our lovely spot on State Rd 7 from a few nights before and tried to ignore how smelly we both were. Finally sleep.

 

Traveling America in a VW Van – pt 7

Traveling America in a VW Van – pt 7

Rocky Mountain Bound:

Yay! We are finally on our way to Rocky Mountain National Park! First, we had to make a pit stop at the mechanic in a nearby town called Loveland. We pulled up and parked in between several other VW buses. The shop owners were on a lunch break so we decided to cook up some quesadillas in the parking lot. Finally, the long awaited day had come where we could get the hex-bar fixed (that broke back in Tennessee). We had the replacement part with us and it was fixed in a few hours. We had the chance to chat with the friendliest mechanics we’ve ever encountered and got some great recommendations on things to do while in the park.

And we were off! We chugged up the backgrounds climbing higher and higher as we neared Rocky Mountain National Park. Twisting and turning around corners that offered vistas even more beautiful than the ones before it.

“Can you believe we’re really here?”

“Not one bit.”

The bus was running pretty hot, and I don’t blame her. Those mountains were steep and she needed a break. So we pulled over at a stop that gave us our first peak at the glaciers ahead of us. We played with the chipmunks and waited a while until she would start back up again, although it felt like ages. Minutes later we were passing by the “Entering Rocky Mountain National Park” sign to welcome us to the first big destination. After getting some advice and maps from a ranger at the visitor center, we headed back through the quaint town of Estes Park to find the trail head in a seldom visited corner of the park.

We began to climb the 7 miles to the top of Estes Cone (which looks like a nipple looming above us). I closed my eyes as I took in the warm afternoon breeze that rippled through the aspens and the smell of fresh pine needles around us. Most of my hike was spent huffing and puffing up the steep mountain trail while trying to keep Conrad in my view ahead of me. The higher we climbed, the more our view of Longs Peak opened up in front us.

“You want to climb that one when we finish this trail?”

(Climbers must have repelling gear and a bivy permit, which we did not)

The final stretch was a tough one, and the trail could only be spotted by finding the rock cairns to guide the way. A fun rock scramble on our hands and knees welcomed us to the very top of Estes Cone and the views were worth the work. Every place i set my eyes on amazed me. Gusts of wind rippled through my body as I stared at the snowy peaks of the Rockies that were surrounding me. We enjoyed a snack and tried to hide our food from the sneaky alpine squirrels. We stayed as long as we could before heading back down the mountain as light was leaving us.

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“I guess we should find somewhere to sleep, right?”

So we headed back down the mountain to find a desolate country road in the park.

“There it is! I found our spot!”

We parked on the side of State Road 7 with a nice mountain view in front of us. Time to pop the top and get cooking.

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The next morning I woke to Conrad nudging me and trying to get some words out. Eventually I heard “It’s sunrise” and I shot out of bed so fast that I knocked my head on roof. (Probably the 40th time on the trip). It was too cold to leave the comforts of the bus so I shot some pictures of the pink morning light shining into our bed. Then I fell back into the comforts of sleep.

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Hours later we woke and got ready to do another hike on the east side of the park. The bus had other plans. We tried and tried and tried to get her started, but it seemed she liked the view so much, she didn’t want us to leave. A few hours later, my AAA membership came in handy and we revved to a start.

“She sounds pretty angry today.”

“I guess it’s back to the shop for us.”

So we cruised through the park and through Roosevelt National Forest  towards our friends at the shop in Loveland. Our day was spent gawking at the towering white cliffs above us as the road followed a bellowing river. We made it near Loveland when it was time to stop for gas. She had been running fine the whole day so we decided to turn back around and head to the west side of Rocky Mountain. Silly us.