From my love of maps and geography at a young age through my current passion of trail running, Colorado has always fascinated me. Yet I’ve lived nearly 35 years without ever paying a proper visit to the state (the one time I was in Colorado was a layover in the Denver airport). That would all change with our family vacation this summer.
After our adventure at Howl at the Moon we spent Will’s birthday with both sets of his grandparents. Then we drove west. From the time Will was very little he didn’t travel particularly well, so we’ve rarely gone more than 3-4 hours in the car for the past few years. He handled the extended drive rather well now that he’s a mature 4 year old. Melissa has detailed our adventures here and here.
We spent the first night at a hotel beside the interstate in eastern Colorado, before heading on to Fort Collins the next morning. Fort Collins reminded me a lot of Champaign-Urbana, our former home. Except better in many ways. It has just about the best bicycling infrastructure of any city I’ve ever seen, and that’s saying something.
Despite the adjacent mountains, the city is flat. There was one road with heavy (if slow-moving) automobile traffic, but every other street in the city was completely ridable. Every arterial road had wide traffic lanes plus dedicated bike lanes. Plus cars drove at sensible speeds and didn’t take stupid risks for no apparent reason. Most secondary roads also had wide traffic lanes plus dedicated bike lanes. By the time you hit roads small enough to not have dedicated bike lanes there was essentially no automobile traffic. I didn’t actually ride in Fort Collins, but it was obvious this city would be extremely easy to get around by bike (better than C-U, and way better than Saint Louis).
We camped that night at Horsetooth Reservoir, just west of the city in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. While this location kind of paled in comparison to what was to come, it was still a magical place to stay our first night in the Rockies.
The next morning I awoke with a dry throat. Sure, we live nearly at sea level and we were now a mile above. The thin air was noticeable to me at this altitude, but not enough to bother me. The thing that did bother me, and I honestly wasn’t expecting this, was the dryness of the air. Nobody told me Colorado was essentially a desert. I was expecting the mountains and forests and rivers, but not necessarily the stark red earth and dry air.
We went for a hike at nearby Horsetooth Mountain. As I was carrying a 4 year old on my back at unfamiliar elevation and recovering from a long hard race effort, we opted for an easy hike rather than try to summit the peak. We had a fun time.
After Fort Collins we drove to Rocky Mountain National Park for a few days of camping and hiking there. We drove through Big Thompson River Canyon, which was unbelievable. Given this was my first time in the Rockies, I was blown away by the mountains. This felt like an entirely different planet from the Appalachian mountains, where I’ve spent a considerable amount of time.
We camped at almost 9,000 ft. I went for a short run (my first run post-Howl) in the morning. I felt it all–the thin air, the dry air, the wild temperature swings. I saw moose and elk. I saw the mighty Colorado River where it’s just a creek, not even big enough to be given a name in the midwest.
After breakfast we went out for a family hike along the Colorado River.
In the afternoon we went for another hike to Adams Falls.
The following day we did some very light hiking at 12,000 ft.
After Rocky Mountain National Park we went to visit Boulder. I expected Boulder to quite similar to Fort Collins, but it was remarkably different. It was reassuring to see dozens upon dozens of recreational cyclists out in the middle of a workday as we approached. But Boulder reminded me a lot more of Saint Louis than Champaign-Urbana. The roads were narrow. Most bikes I saw were on the sidewalk. There were a lot of people driving like maniacs trying to get somewhere in a hurry. I thought Boulder was supposed to be laid back…
We played at a playground, drove around the city, ate vegan fast food at Native Foods, then headed to a hotel for the night. I woke up early the next morning and drove by myself to Green Mountain on the edge of town. I ran from the bottom (5,600 ft) to the top (8,100 ft), taking far more time to do so than I care to admit. The altitude was a struggle for me, but I feel like I had it under control by going slowly. The dry air just about destroyed me. I was breathing the dry air so heavily that my throat just burned most of the way up. I ran out of water long before I reached the top. Upon reaching the summit I stood on the rocks at the top and had a great early morning view of Boulder. I signed some kind of register at the peak (Colorado Mountain Something Something Group) indicating I had been there. I was the only non-Colorado resident on the page. The descent was way easier (except when I had to go off trail to get around a very large snake in the path).
We met Melissa’s friend and her family and played at a park together before walking to a restaurant for lunch. Boulder was way more enjoyable on foot than it was in a car. After lunch we were off to Leadville. It wasn’t actually until the first morning we woke up in eastern Colorado that I realized we would be in the state while the famous Leadville 100 mile trail race took place. We decided to head further into the mountains to be there to watch the race finish.
Now above 10,000 ft, with a sore throat from breathing the dry air for a week, I really didn’t feel spectacular in Leadville. I literally found myself panting after jogging across the street, and again after walking up two flights of stairs in the hotel. We watched the first two finishers cross the line, Ian Sharman and Nick Clark. Both of these guys were in Nicaragua at Fuego y Agua this year. Ian ended up not racing Fuego y Agua (and I didn’t actually meet him), while Nick won the 100K after running with me for the first 11 miles and going off course twice. Kudos to them both. Given the difficulty I faced jogging across the street I can’t imagine running 100 miles at and above this elevation. Well, not yet. The next morning Melissa went for a run and claimed to enjoy it. I’m not sure I would have been able to.
Our last stop in Colorado was a fun trip on an old mining railroad (Will loves trains). Then came the long, long drive back home.