Saturday, January 9, 2021

Loveland Ski Area

 This morning we left our Airbnb at 6:00 AM to spend the day at the Loveland Ski Area. I intentionally scheduled this as the last thing on our itinerary so that if someone broke a leg I wouldn’t have to cart them around the rest of our multi-state trip on crutches. Spoilers, thankfully everyone remained uninjured today.

Loveland consists of two mountains - the Valley and the Basin. Our first stop was the Valley, to get an idea of what people in Colorado consider the easy slopes. Cole and I quickly decided that we would be staying in this area and holding down the green runs for the day while Gabby, Joe, Sam, and Justin headed over to the Basin for some blues, and, in Joe’s case, one double black. We had several friends who warned us that that a green on the east coast is not the same as a green in Colorado, and we certainly found this to be true. At one point, Cole and I followed a sign that pointed to the “Easy Way” and then looked at each other in disbelief a few seconds later. That would be a blue minimum at Winterplace in West Virginia.

At one point, I made a new unexpected friend named Bob. I was waiting to get on the lift when the skier in front of me started giving me directions. “Step up here with me. Now ski to the red line. As the lift comes around, take a seat and put your poles to the side.” I was a little perplexed as to why this guy was giving me instructions, but figuring I just looked like a guy who had never ridden a lift before (although at this point I had literally dozens of rides under my belt) and this was just a friendly local, I obliged and took the seat next to him. There was minute or two of silence and then I asked, “What’s your name?” He asked me to repeat the question, I did, and he responded, “Well, I’m Bob.” I said, “Nice to meet you, Bob. I’m Ezra.” He did a double take. “Ezra?” I said, “Yes, Ezra.” He then profusely apologized. “Oh, I’m sorry. I thought you were my daughter’s boyfriend! You’re about the same height and both wearing a black mask!” We had a nice chat on the way up, and I chuckled to myself thinking about how confused he probably was that his daughter’s boyfriend was asking what his name was.

After a full day of skiing, we returned to our house for dinner, prepared in part by grill master Joe. Joe, is an expert at choosing occasions to cook when he knows everyone will be starving. At that point, he could probably serve plain peanut butter sandwiches and everyone would be happy. All joking aside, dinner was delicious. Tomorrow morning we’ll be leaving early to fly home!

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Exploring Colorado Springs

This morning we set out to explore Colorado Springs. We had a few detours along the way, but ended up having a great day. However, as the day started, I realized something significant about the group dynamics had changed. Three of the more extroverted members of our group flew home this morning, so we had a pretty quiet drive to start the day.

Our first stop was the post office. Yes, the post office. We had purchased our lift tickets for skiing on Friday from some friends who were unable to use them. The only difficulty was getting the tickets from Kansas and into our hands within a couple of days of us leaving Blacksburg. After striking out with both the Airbnbs, we decided to make use of US Post Office service called “general delivery.” You can have an item sent to a particular zip code with the street address of “General Delivery” and the person who it’s addressed to can pick it up at the local post office. However, when we stopped at the post office, they didn’t have it. Thankfully, it was only because the general delivery post office for this zip code was across town. We drove over there and picked up the envelope with no trouble. I love it when a plan comes together.

Next was Pike’s Peak, where we were told the top seven miles were currently closed due to ice, but were likely to be open later in the day. Deciding to wait it out, we made our way to Garden of the Gods. This park with beautiful large red rocks is owned by the city of Colorado Springs and is open free to the public, which was a stipulation of the family who donated the land the park consists of. We did a lot of walking and a little bit of climbing as we explored the park.

After that, we made two false starts with the US Olympic Training Center and US Air Force Academy (both closed to visitors due to COVID-19), before settling on the newly built US Olympic and Paralympic Museum. This was not our first choice due to the cost of admission and the likelihood we wouldn’t have time to do it justice, but it ended up being my favorite part of the day! This is not your grandparents’ museum. A large part of the experience is an RFID badge that you carry around that allows the exhibits to recognize you and tailor the information to your interests. The whole museum is very high-tech and engaging.

The final stop of the day was the 20 mile drive up Pikes Peak Parkway, gaining ~7,000 feet of elevation in the process. The roads had been cleared by the time we made it back to the mountain, and it was an amazing drive to the top. We stopped at several points along the way to explore and take pictures, and we noticed the elevation difference had a significant effect on our breathing. Most of the peak itself was under construction, but we managed to at least get a group photo.

A second divide (besides introvert/extrovert) has been evident in our group this week. A striking difference between “young” and “old.” Four of our group members on this trip are age 23 or younger, while the rest of us are… older than that (by a margin of several years). This has led to quite a few jokes about the “boomers” as the younger members of our fellowship don’t seem to have some of the same aches and pains the rest of us are experiencing. Kids these days.

From Spearfish Canyon to Colorado Springs

This morning we left our Airbnb in Spearfish, SD and began our drive back to central Colorado. Before we left Spearfish, however, we had to explore Spearfish Canyon and see the three waterfalls the location is known for. The first was easily accessible from the road, the second was down a spur trail of less than half a mile, and the biggest of the three, Roughlock Falls, was about a mile out on a hike alongside a beautiful stream in the snow.

After spending most of the rest of the day driving, we made it to our Airbnb near Colorado Springs in time for a dinner of soup and grilled cheese. After dinner, Lissa and Justin gave PowerPoint presentations detailing why we should choose their preferred sunglasses retailer (Knockaround or Blenders, respectively). Both had very entertaining presentations, and, after some deliberation, the vote came down to a dead tie, with Sam abstaining.

For the rest of the evening we enjoyed playing Catchphrase and Clue before having to say goodbye to Tanner, Lissa, and Malarie, who will be heading back to Virginia tomorrow (sad day!).

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

The Black Hills, Crazy Horse, and Mount Rushmore

 After a good night’s sleep and two substantial meals, the moral of the troops was much better this morning. Nobody even shot me any particularly dirty looks when I told them there would be another four or five hours of driving today. We made and packed sandwiches for lunch, and then headed out.

Our first stop was the Jewel Cave National Monument, where we planning to hike the Hell Canyon trail. At first, I was a bit worried because the visitor’s center was unexpectedly closed (Monday-Wednesday, apparently). However, we eventually discovered the trailhead we wanted was actually outside of the park. This was a good news/bad news situation, because, at almost exactly the same moment, I received word over the radio that Justin had forgotten the bag of sandwiches we packed. Tanner was the only one who had his sandwich because, apparently, he doesn’t trust any of us.

The hike itself was beautiful, although we didn’t spot any of the bighorn sheep that roam the area. We did a five and a half mile loop that ended up being a little more challenging than expected, what with snow and difference in elevation. However, the views made it worthwhile.

Hell Canyon Loop

Next on the schedule was the Crazy Horse monument, currently being created in the Black Hills. The scale of this project is insane. The presidents’ heads on Mount Rushmore are smaller than just the face of this monument, which depicts a Native American Indian chief sitting on a horse.

The Final Product

The final stop of the day was Mount Rushmore, an expected highlight of the trip for several of our group. No one told me they were scheduling construction, though, so we encountered a bunch of chainlink fences when we first arrived. The good news was we were able to follow the detour path around to the viewing platform. Along the walk we passed through Avenue of Flags with all of the state flags, and roundly rejected Joe’s claim that Maryland has the best state flag.

We encountered some snow on the way home but made it back safely and had a spaghetti dinner followed by a pingpong tournament, instigated by Joe and Justin. Unsurprisingly, Justin came out on top, but a few others (Sam, Cole, and Gabby) gave him a run for his money. There must be something in the water in Pennsylvania.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

From Virginia to South Dakota

Today we traveled from Blacksburg, VA to Spearfish, SD by way of three other states - North Carolina, Colorado, and Wyoming. Cheap roundtrip flights out of Charlotte to Denver heavily influenced our destination selection this year, and a group of nine of us decided to give it a go!

True to form, our group split into three separate flights - all three going out of CLT at roughly the same time, but with one group coming back a couple of days early. We all made it onto our flights, despite having to leave Blacksburg at ungodly hours, although some were closer than others. Lissa met a professional disc golfer on the plane (and forgot his name), while Sam initiated a speed-reading competition with his seat mate (unbeknownst to the other guy).

When we got to Colorado, we went to pick up our rental car and discovered quite the line. We left Joe to wait while we went outside and played hackey-sack with a guy we met from Washington. He asked, “Are you guys taking shifts waiting in line?” We looked at each other and laughed, “No, that’s Joe’s job!” Once we got the rental squared away, we began the long drive to our first AirBnB in South Dakota. Lots of interesting sights in Wyoming, including a guy towing a pickup truck down the road with what looked like just a ratchet strap.

After spending a total of 13+ hours sitting in various forms of transportation in the past day, I think we’re all ready to get out tomorrow and do some exploring! Stay tuned!