Where to begin? It’s been 7 months (crazy!) since we returned from our Colorado trip and so much has happened…including a trip to Nova Scotia! Turns out we enjoy our van travels so much that when we return, I find myself distracted with thoughts of where our next journey might take us. That and life…so I have some catching up to do.
First, thank you for the interest that you have in our journeys. When you are on the road for 3 weeks, there is great comfort in knowing that there is a community of folks who travel with us in spirit and support us in countless ways. Thank you.
So…one question that we have been asked often is: “How many miles did you travel?” The answer: 4,564 MILES! That’s a lot of territory, a lot of beautiful country, a lot of interesting people, a lot of time to reflect and a lot of time to figure more things out about life in a campervan…life in general, too.
So…seven months out, these are the things I still remember and I’m recording it as much for us as anything. (By the way…I don’t remember what I had for breakfast today!)
Day 1 (June 25, 2021) up with the sun and 400 miles to Lexington, KY. We had a Harvest Host reservation at Wildside Winery. Highlights: no cooking (bottle of wine and charcuterie board), relaxing stroll through the vineyards, visiting with the Kentucky Thoroughbreds in the pasture next to our van.
Day 2 up before the sun and 580 miles to Kansas City, MO to another Harvest Host (HH) location, at a downtown brewery. Things we learned: KC BBQ Burnt Ends are worth the drive and there’s a lot of freedom when you travel with your bed. The downtown brewery was great…but not for an overnight stay. Live music in a hot, crowded parking lot was not going to work for a good night sleep. We are learning the art of the pivot. With full bellies, we headed to the Riverfront Park for a walk before continuing down the road in search of a better overnight spot. Little did we know we would encounter our first big scare of the trip here. (There were two.) One minute Saka is playing fetch with another Golden and the next minute she catches sight of the Missouri River and is swimming after a stick in a very big and fast moving river. Scared us really bad…she had a great time. Definitely time to exit KC and look for somewhere to park for the night. We ended up at another HH winery about 1 hour west of KC…best we can say is the people were nice and it was quiet.
Day 3 up before the sun and 590 miles to Colorado Springs. Crossed a part of the country we had never seen. Our sightseeing was mostly limited to rest areas…interesting how different they are from one state to another…we will spare you those photos. With our long travel days behind us, we enjoyed a hotel stay with a/c and hot showers.
Day 4 we are up early to explore Garden of the Gods before the crowds. Pikes Peak hid from us this visit so we just might have to return…
The drive to Buena Vista was less than 2 hours. Explored downtown and then headed in search of a dispersed campsite outside in the Four Mile Recreation Area. I love this part of van life…the possibility finding of a camping spot that is epic. After Flay carefully navigated a few miles up a pothole-riddled, sandy road…we nailed it. (Lots of pivoting required…and swearing!!)
Day 5 began with the views, a little work and some mountain biking before we drove up to Cottonwood Pass for hiking. Saka is a great campervan dog and quickly mastered the art of finding shade. We found another nice spot to camp near Cottonwood Lake.
Day 6 we were up early and back in Buena Vista in search of coffeeshop and a good wifi signal for Flay to crank out some work. I did some “housekeeping” and some trail/camp site research before doing some exploring with Saka. Plan and be ready to pivot…
After Flay caught up on work and we drove north less than 1 hour to the Twin Lakes area. Time didn’t allow us to summit Mt Ebert but still enjoyed a beautiful 5 mile hike…including one creek crossing failure. Spotted a perfect camp spot near the end of our hike. Epic…even.
Day 7 begins with the view…a good wifi signal…and work.
Our plan for the day was to take Route 82 over Independence Pass, get in a hike and enter Maroon Bells at 6pm (reservation required) for a short walk and photos and then find a spot to camp. The day unfolded with a steep drive up to Independence Pass and heavy rain. So on with the rain gear. As we started the 6 mile hike to Lost Man Lake at Independence Pass, the trails had become gushing streams…then there was distant lightning and hail…then there was sunshine. Saka loved splashing through streams, running zoomies in snow banks and swimming in alpine lakes. I might have wished for nothing but sunshine but we would have missed out on the full glory of this day. Wouldn’t change a thing.
Route 82 into Aspen was something of a white knuckle drive…lots of cars and plenty of blind curves only one lane wide. Once in Aspen, it became obvious that options for dispersed camping were pretty much non-existent. As we entered Maroon Bells, we snagged a cancellation at the park campground. After Independence Pass, it was pretty tame…and crowded. We headed to the campground with plans to come back at sunrise before hitting the road. Plan and pivot…
Day 8 was a hotel night in Glenwood Springs. We had been unable to get a reservation to hike Hanging Lake so this stop was for showers, laundry, restocking groceries and eating. Interesting encounter: We ended up sharing a table at a brewery with a couple that were doing a campervan trial run. They had flown in that morning, rented an empty cargo van and “equipped” it as a campervan in less than an hour. This completely blew Flay’s mind after our multi-year build!
We had planned to explore the Grand Junction area for Days 9 and 10 and had already identified some great dispersed camping spots. Well…it was HOT! We didn’t last 5 minutes on a trail before the need to PIVOT was very clear.
Drove through CO National Monument Park and then down the Unaweep Tabeguache Scenic Byway towards Telluride.
A 30 minute drive up the Last Dollar Road led to an amazing view that we shared with about a dozen other campervans. It was a surprisingly quiet night. While we don’t see many campervans on the east coast, they are everywhere out west.
We started Day 10 with a drive down Last Dollar that ended at a trailhead and decided to give it a try. The determining factor in some of our decisions is whether or not Flay feels like backing down a narrow mountain dirt road. Anyway, the 6 miles sounded okay and we were ready to hit the trail. If we were smarter, we would have given more consideration to the trail name. About 15 minutes down the trail, we were traversing a steep slope with a creek somewhere below us when a very big, very fast bear crossed the path about 15 feet in front of us. Thankfully he was heading to the creek and not down the trail towards us! Almost as scary as Saka in the Missouri River! A quick Google search ensued as to what to do if you encounter a black bear. So as we continued our hike on Bear Creek Trail…yes, that’s right…we made a lot more noise. Between the sign above and the name of the trail, obviously our pivot still needs some work!
Somehow the trail expanded to 9 miles instead of 6 and Saka walked from one shaded area to the next. She does wonder about us sometimes. Too tired to do much more than back about 500 feet back down the road to a wide space overlooking Telluride, Saka and I took naps while Flay punished himself with a little mountain biking. Dinner overlooking Telluride…
Day 11 we actually went into Telluride. Filled up with gas and water and planned to do the Jud Weibe trail that starts in town. The first part of the trail was sunny, exposed and hot. Saka quickly did a pivot and staged a sitdown strike after about 15 minutes. So we all pivoted and returned to splash in the creek at the trailhead. The look of satisfaction on Saka’s face when we ascended to Mountain Village on the gondola…priceless. It was a good rest day and we were all thankful for Saka’s wisdom and pivot.
With input from a local, we headed towards Ridgway to hike Blue Lakes Trail the next day. I had identified a scenic overlook at the Dallas Divide to camp for the night. Little did I know how epic the view would be or strong the wifi signal. We shared the huge overlook with a skoolie that night, watched a bear from a very safe distance, learned about bear magic and scored an invitation to a clothing optional ranch. Interesting night…
Pretty nice coffee spot to start Day 12.
Blue Lakes Trail was a beautiful hike. Saka especially like swimming in the lake that had been frozen over just the week before. It was a sunny day except for the hail and lightening that rolled in at the top. The access road to the trailhead goes through the Double RL Ranch and we had a Ralph Lauren sighting on the way back to the highway.
Decided we couldn’t beat Dallas Divide for a place to park for the night. We had the million dollar view all to ourselves and were enjoying a peaceful and quiet evening until Cowboy John pulled in blaring Hank Williams for all the world to hear. He came over bearing cold beer and a lot of stories. His truck was hauling a trailer full of Costco merch (8 hours roundtrip) that he resells to Telluride residents. He had overheated on the climb out of Ridgway. An entertaininng hour later he pulled back onto the road heading home to his sons, North, South, East and West. Another interesting night…
Day 13 has us heading to New Mexico via the Million Dollar Highway. Beautiful views until the traffic jam caused by a RV that went off the side of the mountain. Pretty sobering.
The geography changed dramatically when we reached Durango.
After over an hour of barren high desert plains we arrived at our Harvest Host destination. The Wines of San Juan winery was truly an oasis…the wine was really good…we discovered that Saka loves to swing…and there was shore power for us to run the a/c. A very good night…
Day 14 had us traveling about 225 miles to get to Santa Fe. Showers, a/c, wifi, good food, great art everywhere. The name of Flay’s beer says it all: “Happy Camper IPA”
Day 15 was a long 650 miles to get to Dallas and our friends, Mark, Michele and Clay. What a welcome sight!
Day 16 and 17. Great friends. Thoughtful discussions. Belly laughs. TexMex. BBQ. Kolaches. Guacamole. Margaritas. Sangria. Church. Big money mansions. Not enough time. Grateful.
Day 18 and 19, (July 12 & 13). Homeward bound…only 1130 miles to go. Buc-ee’s to gas up. Texas…go big or go home!! Only 120 pumps.
Overnight at a HH Winery outside of Nashville. Job site visit in Asheville. Lunch at Hillman’s in Old Fort. Home to unpack. All good until Alice flooded the downstairs bathroom. Pivot…that’s another story.
Thank you if you traveled all the way to the end of this blog post.
Our big takeaways from this trip:
- Embrace the pivot.
- Be like Saka…trust your instincts…pivot.
- You will meet lots of interesting people…but reconnecting with friends can’t be beat. No pivot needed.
Oh…better learn to carry and use bear spray too.