Denver to DC

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I'm HOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Can't tell you how good that feels.  I'm finally home home home home home.  How do I know I'm back in downtown DC?  As I was unloading the car, someone starting going through my stuff, thinking it was things put out for the trash and hoping he could find something of value.

Oh yeah, I'm home.  :)

So, last Saturday morning, I got up early, reluctantly kissed Furball (also known as Jeff) good-bye and drove to Estes Park to meet the Estrogen Brigade.  Estes Park sits about 5 miles from the entrance to the Rocky Mountain National Park.  I told them I'd get there about 10.  At 10:05, they're all standing in front of our lodgings, pointedly looking at their watches.  I stuck my tongue out at them.  It seemed like the appropriate response.

On Saturday, we hiked up to Emerald Lake.  We were all slower than normal because of the altitude (and, boy, isn't that a great excuse?!) and as we got further up, it got windier and COLDER.    We always found that we were dressed for yesterday's weather.

Now, I gotta tell you, I love to hike.  I love to walk in the woods.  But every time I start hiking, I say to myself "why the hell do I do this??".  There's the panting for breath, the complaining hamstrings, the aggravated hip joints, the sweaty .... everything.  Oh, yeah, because once I hit my stride it's fun.  And hiking allows me to see things I don't normally get to see.  And it's really really quiet.......

Plus, at the Estrogen Event I get to do it with some of my favorite Cool Women (i.e., women a lot like me or at least women who don't find me all that strange).  So, I get to bitch, moan, and complain with like-minded souls.  Is that a recipe for a great day or what?

Saturday night, after our 4 or 5 hours of hiking, half the group headed to the hot tub.  The other half of us joined them the next night, which was a shame because the hot tub wasn't actually HOT on Sunday night.  It was tepid because they'd had to re-fill it that morning and it wasn't heated up yet.  THAT was a disappointment!

On Sunday, we'd hiked another couple of hours up to Bear Lake.  While Emerald Lake had been full, deep green, and clear. Bear Lake was about half gone.  The drought of this year is clearly visible in the muddy banks that used to be underwater.  It was a lovely place for a lunch stop nonetheless. 

It's apparently a popular lunch stop too, judging by the brazen behavior of the chipmunks.  Those little buggers are very small, very fast, and very confident.  It wasn't unusual to find one sitting right next to me actively pawing at my ziploc bag of chips.  Heck, it wasn't unusual to find one on my LEG reaching up for my sandwich, which was in my hand!!  They were cute for the first couple of minutes and then they were just the competition for my lunch!  I resisted the urge to drop-kick them into Bear Lake.

The birds were quite amazing and beautiful too.  Several varieties of jays, all of them quite large (at least compared to blue jays here on the east coast).  I doubt I got any good pictures of them, which is a shame.

Monday, we packed up and headed towards Boulder.  We stopped at a trail where we could hike up about 2 miles to an abandoned mine, eat lunch, and head back.  We met a family with two elementary-aged kids.  They were telling us all about how they would beat off the mountain lions with their walking sticks.  We wished them well.  :)

Monday night was spent at the home of a member of the Estrogen Brigade who lives outside Denver.  Her two boys, 3 and 5, took one look at us and apparently thought "hey, new playmates!!" and that defined the rest of the evening for us.  They were a riot and we had a great time with them. 

Tuesday, my friends boarded their respective planes to go home and I headed east.

Now, I've heard horror stories about driving across eastern Colorado and Kansas.  And, admittedly, it was waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay flat.  And quite sparsely populated (it's not Nevada but it's not Ohio either).  I'll tell you one thing I find interesting and entertaining about places like that -- the billboards.

Look around when you drive down the interstate.  The billboards tend to advertise boring things like car dealerships, politicians, hotel chains, etc. etc. etc.  Boooooooooring. 

In sparsely populated places, the billboards are much more entertaining.  They are designed to entice you off the highway and into their towns.  So the billboards are likely to advertise, oh, the world's tallest prairie dog or the Corn Palace or some other strange and wondrous thing that you have just GOT to pull over and see!  I looked forward to the billboards.

Plus, it's often the only good way to tell what your eating options are in an upcoming town.  I definitely appreciated that.

I ended up in Wichita that night, in a Fairfield, thanks to the generosity of my father-in-law, Rich (THANK YOU, Rich, for those hotel coupons!!).  The next day, it was down to Oklahoma City, across to Ft. Smith, Arkansas, and then south to Texarkana

Why Texarkana?  It's where 2 of my 4 godchildren live.  Anna and Alex are 12 and 9, respectively.  While Alex is quiet and deliberate and just doesn't seem to change much, Anna is all-girl, all-confidence, all-bouncy, and seems to change and grow every time I see her.  She's playing the tuba (!) now in the school band.  She has a boyfriend (!).  She loves to dance around.  She has a confidence and a place in the world that I never had at 12.  It's quite amazing and impressive to see.

Alex is a cool boy too.  He's one of these quiet guys that you just KNOW has all kinds of schemes and ideas going on behind that calm face.  He's quick and self-assured.  He talks when he wants to.  He's quiet when he doesn't want to talk.  He could be very very dangerous.  :)

Their parents, Vickie & Eddie, are friends from my college days and it is always a joy to catch up with them.  They have always made me family in their home and I am always grateful.

Thursday was a long, girl-talk breakfast with Vickie and then on the road to Memphis!  Because, of course, I had to see Graceland.

Couple of notes about Memphis:  I had some of the best pork barbque and some of the WORST Chinese food I have ever had in Memphis (avoid all Chinese buffets near Graceland).  Graceland, even if you're not a rabid Elvis fan (I'm not) is worth a visit.  It took me 2 hours and I just did the house tour.  Elvis had quite a life and they document it incredibly well in the house.  Plus, the house is as it was when he died in 1977.  Which means it is a perfect example of what people with money did in the 70s with home decorating.  Yowsa!  It's been a long time since I've seen shag carpeting on the ceiling......

Got out of Memphis about noon and headed across Tennessee to Knoxville.  I was wondering how I would find the hills and mountains of the east after the wide open places of the midwest.  I still find them lovely, green, and inviting.

Spent the night in Knoxville at a hostel and decided to do another long day on Saturday up to Winchester VA so I could spend the night with my parents.  I had a great evening with them, went to church with Mom this morning, and got home about 2.

What can I tell you I learned form this trip?

This is a BIG danged country.  I mean way big.  For those of you on the east coast, you just can't quite imagine how big. 

This is an incredibly varied country.  From the granite mountains of New Hampshire to the rolling green hills of Virginia to the crashing surf of the Oregon coast to the sweeping farmland of South Dakota to the desert scrub-brush-iness of central Nevada.  It seems like we've got a little bit of everything.

Yes, this is a nice country.  People, outside major cities, look you in the eye and say "hello".  You can, generally, be assured that you won't be robbed, assaulted, or mis-used.  They will, in general, trust you when you say you left your wallet in your car and you'll be right back....

God love the U.S. interstate system!  When I started this trip, I said I wasn't going to use the interstates once I got across the Mississippi, unless I had to.  Well, I gotta tell you, when you got a long way to go and a (relatively) short time to get there, nothing beats cruise control and the interstate!  You still get to see a lot of land, a lot of countryside, and a lot of interesting places.

If you're driving across country, stop at the state tourism places that are usually just inside the state lines on the interstates.  The bathrooms are clean and if they're staffed, they're staffed by people who love their state and would welcome a chance to tell you more about it.

I am grateful for the national park system.  Dang, there's some beautiful land out there being preserved just for the likes of people like you and me.  The trails are well-marked, the rangers are helpful, the amenities are reasonable.  If you want rugged challenging backcountry experiences, you can have them.  If you want a nice stroll with grandma, who's confined to a wheelchair, you can find that too.  Plus, lots of neat t-shirts.  :)  Don't complain about the entrance fees.  It's worth it.

If you want to see something strange and different, go to the places no one ever raves about.  WyomingNevadaKansas.  Really really look at it and see the beauty that the residents see.  It's worth the effort.

KOA has a darned nice campground system.  If you're into self-reliant camping, you don't need KOA.  If you need a clean bathroom, hot shower, and a half-way decent chance of finding a washing machine, KOA is a good bet.  They are often close to the highway (easy access but more traffic noise) but they are a reasonable price for reliable accommodations.  RV'ers love them, apparently.

For about the last 10 days, everyone who noticed my DC license plates commented on the whole sniper thing.  Even asked if I was really going home.  I didn't leave after the terrorist attacks, I didn't leave after the anthrax debacle, and I'm not leaving now.  In fact, I found myself driving into DC and getting pissed off at this sniper.  I half wish I had a flag on my car that said "Dear Mr. Sniper:  Bite me, you cowardly SOB." 

That's probably not a good idea and I promise not to do that but I want to.  We've had too much crap happen to us in the last year to have this now too. 

So, I'm home.  The front hall is full of my gear that I will have to carry up, one load at a time.  I've got a table full of mail.  I've got a clean house, which will stay that way till Jeff gets home next Saturday.  I'm glad I went.  It's good to be home.

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photo by: b93sp