Grand Colorado Adventure, Part I

“You need an adventure, not a vacation.” 

The friend who casually said this to me probably doesn’t know that I have taken it as a kind of mantra.  It perfectly described why I kept wanting to do a national park trip.  And it’s led to me being here, in a bustling coffee shop in the Rockies.

Granted, my idea of “adventure” is pretty tame compared to most. For our river guide yesterday, it means rock-climbing up a cliff that has never been climbed before. For me, it means a new place, with some amazing natural beauty, and maybe a bit of outdoor activity; it’s a trip that doesn’t involved visiting friends or family in their natural habitats.  But it also means finding a coffee shop and taking some time to reflect on why I need this adventure and what has happened so far.

The adventure began on Friday with a trip on Southwest from Tulsa to Denver.  This is unusual in that I normally fly out of our overpriced yet convenient local airport, and I don’t get to enjoy the quirks of flying Southwest.  Like the brightly colored planes, the friendly (sort of) jostle for the best seats, the singing flight attendants, the peanuts on board (!) and the whole “Bags Fly Free” thing, which definitely made packing easier.

The flight was largely uneventful, if you don’t count the fact that we circled for a while to avoid a large thunderstorm (that I could see from the window).  We were treated to a little rainbow as we taxied in to our (occupied) gate.

Then my friend and I were off to acquire our rental car.  After a cordial battle with the rental car agent (why is it always SO difficult to get what you actually reserved at a rental car company?  No, I don’t need the extra horsepower, Mr. Agent Man.  Why do you assume that since I’m a girl I won’t understand that you’re trying to fleece me?) 

Our drive up to the town of Estes Park was dark.  We couldn’t see the mountains that we knew we were driving into.  Then to the hotel to crash, which wasn’t that easy for me; when you’re used to sleeping alone, it’s a little weird to be in the same room with another person. 

Which brings me to the awesomeness of the particular friend I am traveling with.  This is a friend that I know from business school, but we weren’t in the same class.  In fact, we have gotten to know each other via conferences, serving on a board together, and some involved facebook chats.  So when I tossed this out to the facebook universe a few months back:

I’m thinking of visiting a National Park this summer.  Anyone wanna join me?

I didn’t really think I’d get a response.  But this friend said she was in and thus began a planning process that took too long but eventually led us here.  And so far, we seem to be good traveling companions.  Neither of us seem to be terribly agenda driven, and I think we both need this break for different reasons.  All that is to say, I slept better last night.

But I get ahead of myself.  Yesterday was an amazing day.  We were up at the crack of dawn (and nearly missed our van) and driving over the mountains to get to the Colorado River.  We got up to 12,000 feet (two miles above sea level) and then wound our way back down.  We wound up on a boat with a strangely delightful group that included our guide Nate, a bit of a stereotypical adventure seeker who still had us laughing and enjoying ourselves, a father-son duo from Denver, and three sisters who were spending a few days together before one of them shipped off to Afghanistan for a year-long deployment as a field medic.  I bought one of those old-school disposable cameras, so the wait time to see the photos will be longer than normal.  But, here’s the thing.  I have always had this vision in my head of “rafting the Colorado”.  If one can have a bucket list at 35, this was on it.  The natural beauty was all I’d hoped for.  About the only negative was I could have done with less floating and more rapids, but hey, we were beginners. (I fully intend to go back, and demand more chances to risk my life on whitewater.) And then we all wound up at the cantina for dinner, where unfortunately the much-hyped avocado margarita was not all I wanted it to be.

So as I sit here enjoying the buzz of conversation, the clean light and the blue, blue Colorado sky from my coffee shop corner, I don’t really know why adventure is what I need right now.  It might be that a lot of things in my life feel stalled at the moment, and out here, at least, everything is new and beautiful.  It might be that nagging feeling that time is moving too fast, and there are too many things I haven’t seen and done yet.  Or maybe it’s just that I miss the mountains. 

Whatever it is, I can’t wait to see what happens next.  

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