This trip had long been overdue. For years, my best friend Jen and I dreamed about taking a grand adventure together. Both of us are full of wanderlust and we rarely see each other, a downfall of the 2,300 miles separating us. We’ve tried a thousand times to figure something out. Work, school, life, money – something always seemed to get in the way of our plans. Almost three years had passed since the last time we saw each other without a phone screen. Even that moment was only about an hour.
A little background for you. Jen has always been the most compassionate and giving person I have ever met. It shows in everything she does, personally and professionally. Serving in the Peace Corps has been her dream for as long as I can even remember. After a couple of attempts, she was accepted and, as I edit this, she is currently serving in Africa for 27 months. Her service began in June. ( Yes, it took me way longer to finish/write this than expected. Life happens.) We knew our time was running out to plan our adventure unless we wanted to wait another 3 years.
To the interwebs we went!
Thanks to some top-notch travel tips from one of my best buds Janelle, we did around two months of travel research to find options for our almost-empty bank accounts but something that would fulfill our adventurous goals. Where was the most bang for our buck? What offered the best chance to explore and, most importantly for us, relax?
We had been searching out west – Arizona, Utah and various other parts of the Southwest. We had hoped I would fly in somewhere near her in California. Somewhere she could drive, pick me up, and we would use her car. I would pack all my gear and we would stay in National Forests and BLM land to save ourselves money. It was about a month into planning when I realized the price for flights into Vegas, Phoenix or LA were too much despite our minimalist plan.
Just as soon as we started to give in and give up, it happened. The power of the universe showcased her brilliance. (Sorry I doubted you Universe.) In the span of only a few days, both of us received emails from one of our flight trackers about crazy deals for Denver. That was it. We both felt it.
I went crazy in the best way possible. Why hadn’t we thought of this before? It was perfect. A new city to explore and a plethora of mountains and public lands to call home. We could hike, explore and work our way through the mountains. The only problem with this destination, we would need transportation.
Rental cars are never cheap, ever. Even the cheap ones end up being expensive by the time you are finished. I had luckily picked up some great road tips over the last year. I knew a car was out of the question for many reasons. One was the snow we would surely encounter everywhere in the mountains by early to mid-December. The second was experience.
Over the previous summer, my mom, wife and I traveled to Washington for 10 days, working our way through Mount Rainier and Olympic National Parks. There were a few days on the trip we were unable to find a campground or public land to set-up camp. This meant sleeping in the car. More than one person sleeping in a car is not fun, let alone three adults.
When we returned from Washington, I started doing a lot of solo travel. I have an SUV and used some inspiration from van lifers to figure out a quick conversion for the back of my vehicle. I had lived out of my Escape for a half dozen trips or so by the time we started planning for Colorado so I knew an SUV was the way we needed to go. It was going to be too cold in some parts of Colorado to camp traditionally, especially with a California girl in tow.
No affordable rental car is an SUV. NONE. Then, a little light came on in my head. During the planning of the previously mentioned Washington trip, I had looked up renting a campervan. It was peak season for that trip and they were all booked or insanely priced. This had to be off-season though, right? I mean, who wants to go through the snowy, freezing mountains in a van besides some skiers? And skiers aren’t exactly road tripping are they? My new search for Denver led me to Escape Campervans (your Google paid ad did its job by the way marketing department).
I was in love instantly with all of their vans because of the amazing, custom paint jobs and all the cool shit included. I was already sold. I put in our dates and I about fell over. This would be our lodging, allow us to cook for ourselves and be our rental car. I added snow chains for the mountain passes. Under 500$ for six days. Yes, you read that correctly.
In order for this to not become a review of Escape, I’ll stop here. (I absolutely love them and I’m in the process of booking another trip with them so I could go on and on and.. on!)
Now, we had a badass house on wheels. Our attention turned to actual route planning! I love to plan despite being a crazy fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants person. I guess I make more of an outline by prioritizing some of the things we want to do. I love researching new towns and areas. Mostly, I research where we can park and camp for free! Colorado has an abundance of BLM and National Forest land. This is perfect for the type of trip we were taking.
We laid out three possible routes, finally deciding on the one that allowed us to wander at a much slower pace. We made some sacrifices, yes, but we learned by the end of the trip, they were not made in vain.
The winning route was a loop beginning in Denver, heading up to Rocky Mountain National Park, through the mountains to White River NF area and Frisco, possibly to Vail, down to Breckenridge, through Colorado Springs and back to Denver. Sounds amazing right? It was and the following is as close as I can come to describing the inspiring, relaxing, insightful, brilliant, and soul-refreshing moments spent with my best friend, my soul sister, my Jen.
Day 1 – My flight from Ohio arrived in Denver around 8 a.m. Jen’s flight from Palm Springs wasn’t arriving for a few hours so I had some time to kill. After successfully retrieving my luggage, I was in search of a spot to charge my phone, grab some food and, most importantly, coffee. Denver’s airport is massive and probably one of the best around so it was pretty easy to accomplish this list on an early weekday morning.
Much to my surprise, Jen arrived 20 minutes ahead of schedule!! What a great start to the trip! I was so excited to see her. I watched for her from the little nest I had made on the balcony by the coffee shop. I looked like a kid searching for Santa. We were FINALLY reunited and, boy, it felt so good. The friendship we have is truly a once in a lifetime one. We instantly just pick right back up. It is truly one of my favorite blessings.
We couldn’t pick up our campervan until 1 p.m. but we still needed to figure out the train route to get there. Luckily, we had plenty of time. Heading out of the airport, and much to our surprise, there was an ice rink! Yes, you read correctly, an ice rink. Not only was there a rink, but there was also free skate rental! Denver Airport catapulted ahead of all the other airports instantly. Taking advantage of this amazing FREE activity, we clumsily headed onto the ice, laughing all the way. We hadn’t even been skating for 10 minutes when we realized how bad the skates hurt our feet. We enjoyed a small “Hey! We didn’t fall!” victory lap and called our figure skating careers to an end.
To the train!
It was much easier to figure out than I had expected. However, coming from the airport wasn’t as cheap as we had hoped. It was still less than half of an Uber though! All aboard!!!
It was a short ride to the station near the campervan depot. We had to walk from the station to the depot. It was less than a half mile but with a suitcase full of gear, a suitcase full of winter weather clothing, and my backpack, I was not prepared. Especially when one of my connecting straps decided to break. Much to our dismay, we found a shortcut to the depot from the station AFTER we had arrived. Mental note for the return trip.
Most of the vans were sitting in front as we walked up to the office. All of them in their awesome, unique glory. The woman working, I believe Jan, (sometimes I am terrible with names so I apologize), was amazing. From start to finish, awesome. The check-in process was super easy and we got to pick our own van!!! One of those perks to off-season travel. We picked Hyperspace, a warp-speed rainbow. Her name was changed to The Zen Wagon on our trip but we hadn’t gotten that close with her yet.
After the paperwork was completed, we were allowed to go through the pantry! The pantry is basically a collection of everything other campers haven’t finished and didn’t want to take back with them! We were stoked because this meant fewer groceries to purchase. Our inner broke girls could be heard screaming and jumping for joy. A couple of things worked out super well and we grabbed those and headed outside to start making our van home.
Escape is such a super chill company. After loading in and getting settled, they allowed us to store our extra suitcases at the depot. Yay for extra space!! She gave us a rundown of all the awesome features of the van, such as the sink with a 5-gallon tank, and just some basics of where things were located. She showed us the quickest way to convert from daytime space with the table to sleep mode with the bed. Simple, easy, smart. I had also read a blog from past Escape customers who gave some great tips and hacks to make road life easier! We were ready to hit the road. The real trip had finally reached its commencement.
Our first stop was in downtown Denver, Purple Door Coffee. If you don’t know about Purple Door, check it out. They are a caused-based company who employ youth and young adults facing homelessness. We weren’t far away so we arrived relatively quickly and I was very happy to see a sizeable parking lot across the street. I could parallel park the van if needed, but I’ll take a lot any day. We were so excited to finally be exploring. We jumped out of the van and hurried over to the coffee shop.
The vibe of Purple Door is amazing. I bet you can guess the color of the front door. We found a nice little space after ordering and decided to finally sit and decide a plan of action. After a while, we headed out the door. Ready to tackle the rest of downtown Denver. There was one problem though, I couldn’t find the keys.
Let’s rewind to the depot when she finally gave us the keys, two on the ring, and said: “Make sure you separate these so one of you always has a key.” Now, let’s go back to the parking lot where I am now staring at the keys, still together, laying in the front console of the LOCKED van. Oh, well, SHIT.
I am sure the girl at Escape was like “I TOLD YOU SO” when we called and asked for what we should do. Luckily for us, Jen has AAA and we were rescued! Unfortunately, we were now almost two hours behind schedule. Oh well. On with the night.
We saw a train station close to the lot we were already in so we decided to just take it downtown and not even try to mess with parking. I will say downtown Denver at the holidays is something all travelers should add to their list. It was beautiful. The lights. The horses. The shops. Oh, it was something out of a dream. We walked the whole main drag and grabbed a quick bite. We decided to say goodbye to town and head back to the van.
This time at the lot we had keys! We jumped in the van and headed to our next objectives. We made our stops for groceries and other goodies and finally came to our first “where do we sleep?” moment. I use the freecampites.com app shortcut a lot when I look for a last-minute sleeping destination. We headed toward our destination for the next day, hoping to find a place to park along the way.
We had a few spots marked in our itinerary notes but none of them were really working out. Finally, we stumbled into a Travel America to pee and realized it was the perfect place. Plenty of room to park and sleep for the night. We could use the restroom all night if needed and get ready in the morning. Most importantly, COFFEE. I could just buy a quick cup and not worry about brewing it in the morning so we could make up some travel time we lost from the key fiasco.
A quick bed conversion and we were out. Our long day of travel had officially taken its toll. Despite the freeway noise, we both slept pretty well and woke up fairly early.
Day 2 – I am a morning person. One of those that everyone hates. I really am not a morning person though. I love to sleep. I just love watching the world wake up and the sun begins to shine on a new day. There was actually a hint of color in the sunrise that morning but we were on the eastern side of Denver in the never-ending flatness so it was a little underwhelming.
We took our time getting everything situated. Taking the time to make the van feel like our own was part of the adventure. The people watching was especially good that morning. People were starting to roll out of other vehicles parked in the lot. A very diverse group of people. A trucker, his wife and their dog. Meeting for a night to visit on what I am sure is an extended trip. (I must admit I first thought the lady to be a hooker. There was later proof she was not. Oops.) A small family in a truck camper. Everyone starting their day at the TA! (Non-paid hahahahaha but call me if you want to use that Travel America!)
We set off with the destination of our campsite in Rocky Mountain National Park. Into the mountains we went. Time to finally disappear. Once we hit the road, both of us were almost immediately hungry and in need of more caffeine. First stop, anywhere we could park and cook.
The universe was definitely on our side after the whole key situation. We had left the hustle of the interstate and finally landed on a two-lane road to the mountains. Out of nowhere, a beautiful lake appeared at the base of the mountain range… with a huge gravel lot. Did we just hit the jackpot?
Still in our sweats, we jumped out of the van to use the bathroom. Oh yes, there was a glorified port-a-pot at this spot, too. We were living the high life. After moving the van to a better spot along the lake, we finally just slowed down and starting making coffee and breakfast in the crazy wind on a blue sky day at the base of a snow-capped mountain. Yup. Pinched myself. I was awake. What a hell of a start to a Wednesday!
We enjoyed our breakfast inside the van because the wind made it hard to eat outside but the view was just as good from our little table. We took advantage of no one at the lake and changed and got ourselves settled in a little more. We were in no hurry.
We used the amenities one more time and prepared ourselves to finally head into the mountains. We were ready. I was ready. I needed to be lost within those snow-capped peaks.
It wasn’t more than a few miles before we started to climb. Before we knew it, we were rounding the corner into Estes Park, the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. Our first destination was in sight.
We headed into town because we still needed to take care of a few errands and send off a few postcards. One of our stops was at Estes Park Mountain Shop to rent some gear I didn’t own at home. I have some snow gear but we needed actual crampons and some trekking poles for the hike we were going to attempt the next day. We found a nice little parking lot and made lunch. I realize this sounds like we are eating constantly, but it really was lunch time. We got a few strange looks. I mean, the van isn’t exactly one you can get away with stealth camping. It pretty much screams LOOK AT ME.
Finally, it was time to make the last little drive into the park itself. We only booked one spot in advance of the trip and that was this spot in RMNP’s Moraine Park campground. Since we were one of five people there, I don’t think it was a necessity. We just wanted a stable home base before our biggest hike of the trip.
We rolled into camp just before 5 p.m. which allowed just enough daylight to explore a little near our campsite and get the van converted to night mode. We started dinner as night fell upon us. Our food was hot but the air was cold as we piled in to to the van to eat dinner. Maps strewn across the table, we started to go over our hike for the next day and get a better idea of the route we had planned to take.
Day 3– I rolled over and slowly opened my eyes as the light slowly started to break to the east. I was cold but not uncomfortable and for that, I was extra thankful. We had an early start planned as we hoped to get a decent amount of hiking in on a winter day.
Water for coffee was boiling as the golden light of the morning washed across the campground. Today was set aside for hiking in RMNP. We woke up to an absolutely beautiful morning and the snow flurries rolled in before we finished breakfast.
Magpies came from all around. Conditioned by previous campers I am sure. Unfortunately, they weren’t going to get anywhere with us. No feeding the wildlife, please!
We made quick work of breakfast and started to layer up for our adventure. Getting our packs ready too as we prepared for a winter excursion.
A quick stop at the ranger station to check conditions. There seemed to be some darker snow clouds making their appearance on what had been a bluebird morning. I had to laugh at the rangers gushing over the fact we were prepared with microspikes and poles. It was like they all sighed in relief that someone was actually prepared. We arrived at the Glacier Gorge trailhead and were the only vehicle in the lot. I was a-okay with that.
Our original plan was to hike to Mills and Jewel Lake. We caught up to 2 other hikers that had come from the Bear Lake trailhead about a half mile into our trek. Then, all of our hiking plans changed as we saw them come to a screeching halt 50 yds in front of us.
Slowly, they backed up. We mimicked them even though we had no idea what was over the hill. We followed their lead until finally they turned around and we did the same. Turns out- there was a very, VERY unhappy momma moose and her calf in the middle of the trail and she kept coming at them.
So- a quick chat and to Bear Lake we went instead! That’s one thing traveling and hiking has taught me- the ability to adapt and go with the flow. I try to apply those lessons to my everyday life. Now, we weren’t going to get to enjoy our snowy lake lunch as planned but we were still going to enjoy a snowy, frozen lake!
Though the hike was much shorter than our original route, it was still breathtaking. It had started to snow when we made it to the lake and I drank in every single ounce of the frozen wonderland as the white fluffy stuff swirled around us like a snowglobe.
We wrapped up by the lake just as a tour bus pulled in to the Bear Lake parking. Impeccable timing universe. Back at our trailhead, we still enjoyed solitude but made the decision to head to another part of the park to make lunch.
The warm food was a very welcome treat as we couldn’t seem to escape from the cold. The snow clouds made it seem as if night had already arrived and given us a sense of urgency. We scarfed down our food and headed back towards Estes Park to turn in our rental gear. Losing daylight, we asked the mountain shop workers for some suggestions of NF land to park on. They had a few suggestions but we made the decision to hit the road towards our next destination, Lake Dillon.
Driving the Peak to Peak highway is one thing, it is another to do so in the dark, and it is definitely something in the dark when a snowstorm pops up. I am actually thankful it was in the dark. My anxiety would have exploded my head if I could have seen the drop-offs near the edge of the road. We wound our way through beautifully decorated little mountain towns until we found ourselves back on 70. The snow was falling faster than we could drive and making the push up the last climb started to seem impossible.
The lights of Frisco, Dillon, and Silverthorne greeted us after the last climb. Now, everything was coated in snow, including the highway. It was getting late, almost 11 at this point when we made a decision to find a hotel. This was obviously not ideal as the whole point of the campervan was to not spend money on lodging, but we were tired. The sink in the van and water tank was frozen. We opted for warmer beds and a sink to wash our backed up dishes.
We stopped at the first hotel we could get too. Grabbed our necessities quickly and headed in for some showers and some slumber.
Day 4– I didn’t know when we woke up in the hotel that morning that my soul was about to be forever changed. The snow had subsided and we woke to the most beautiful scenery and beautiful blue skies. We got ready and loaded back up in the van- with clean dishes! Sorry, Super 8.
Our first destination was the Dillon district ranger station of White River National Forest. We wanted to figure out if any of the areas we had marked to camp were still open or accessible thanks to the snow. The rangers were awesome despite all our options being closed. They gave us an “unofficial” recommendation of where to sleep that night and we were off to explore our surroundings.
As we drove across the dam of Lake Dillon for the first time, I could feel every little beat of my heart as it grew full. We pulled off at a parking area and jumped out as quickly as possible to race down to shore. In that moment, staring at the mountains in every direction, I knew my soul had found its home. A feeling washed over me, much like it had when I stood along the river staring up at Mount Rainier, a feeling of my soul acknowledging I was exactly where I should be. We hiked to the campground that was closed for the season and up and down the shore until our stomachs growled.
We went in search of a place to cook (I swear we did more than find spots to cook and eat) and found a trailhead just outside of Frisco that was perfect for just that. A beautiful view and away from the hustle and bustle. Lunch, writing, and naps followed.
After some food and some exploring near the trailhead, we headed into the actual town of Frisco for the first time. We spent time exploring all the amazing shops and learning about the ‘wassailing’ event that was happening. We had lucked out by finding parking right downtown next to a public restroom that was always open!
Everyone stared as we drove up and down the main street in our big rainbow-striped van. As sunset inched closer, we realized how beautiful it was shaping up to be and raced back to the lake shore just in time to watch one of the most beautiful sunsets of my life. My heart grew to almost bursting. I took it all in. Every last pink and golden drop until the sky grew too dark to see.
We spent the rest of the night exploring Frisco from one end to another as the holiday lights came on and lit up the little mountain town and people filled the shops and streets for the festival. We took advantage of the restrooms one more time and got the van ready for sleep before heading to the place the rangers recommended. It was cold when we pulled off the highway to the scenic viewpoint, but we would find out that was nothing by the time morning rolled around.
Day 5 – We would have never stayed overnight at that viewpoint if the ranger hadn’t recommended it. I mean- it wasn’t exactly serene. It was cold when we woke up. Really cold. I believe it was 8 degrees. I can’t even tell you how many layers we had on and sleeping bags and the blankets that came with the van. The inside of the windshield was frozen from the condensation of our breath.
We woke up happy.
A clicking and clacking was going on right outside of the van. The source of the noise unknown as the blackout curtains were drawn. We opened the side doors. It couldn’t be any colder outside than inside. That’s when we caught a glimpse of the first hints of dawn.
We stirred out of the van and the source of the commotion revealed itself. A photographer and videographer frantically raced to set-up before the magic began. We, too, prepared to watch the show that was warming up on the horizon and spent every moment watching it unfold into shades of pink and orange as the world woke up.
We finally shook off our morning fog and realized we really needed a bathroom. I grabbed a dust pan from the back and used it to start scraping the ice off the inside windshield. I’m from the midwest. I have used a variety of items to scrape unexpected ice and snow from my vehicle. We pulled out 10 minutes later and headed right back to the amazing little bathrooms in Frisco.
Our stomachs made the next decision.
We had scoped out another place to cook at the end of town. An overnight lot we had marked as back-up. Located only a short drive from the bathroom, it was time to cook some breakfast and put the van back in day mode. The views and the magic of town were on display everywhere you looked. My heart started to ache knowing we would soon be leaving for our next destination.
We fueled our bodies and said goodbye to Frisco. A magical town. I made a promise that I would be back.
The music was cranked as we watched our snowy mountains disappear in the rear view as we headed south towards Pike National Forest.
We meandered slowly down a two lane mountain highway. We drove through Breckenridge and continued south. Those snowy mountains were fading quickly in the distance.
A little historic town caught our eye in all it’s holiday glory so we pulled into the lot and jumped out to explore. All of the tours were closed but the real town that coexisted with it still had a little life left. A cafe on the corner called our names as our stomachs started to growl.
A group of old men sipped coffee in a corner; a staple of any diner in any small town in America. The cafe own rushed around while her child worked on homework and colored pictures, all strewn across the last corner booth. Mom never too far away but working alone. Then, there was us. It was a quiet but beautiful lunch.
We walked the rest of the little town- or what was left of it- and headed back to the van. There were more miles ahead of us and we needed to find a spot before sunset. Thanks to an abundance of choices in the area, we made quick work of finding a spot on a forest road.
The traffic was a little higher on the main forest road because we were in one of the Christmas tree zones of Pike National Forest. We couldn’t believe the amazing spot we found was open. It was more than we could have asked for. Mother Nature turned the world shades of orange and gold and we could see Pike’s Peak in the distance.
Life was good. Knowing the end of the trip was on the horizon. We took a moment but in that moment- we both had bad feelings. Something about our area just wasn’t comfortable- something was making both of us nervous.
If I had learned anything through my solo travels prior to that moment it was to trust your gut always. I wasn’t solo but I wasn’t the only one with the bad feeling either. We packed up a few things quickly and tried to get down the mountain before it got too dark. We needed a plan B. We chose an RV Park near our destination for the next day. The looks we got while pulling in with our rainbow van were amusing in themselves.
Sad it wasn’t the scenario we hoped for, we embraced the things like heated bathrooms were a short walk away. We had access to power for the heater and after the night before, this alone gave us a small victory dance inside. It was much warmer in Colorado Springs but it was not Southern California warm. Dinner was made and consumed and we headed inside our little space for the night.
Day 6- Waking up was much warmer but not as scenic as previous days. There were amazing heated bathrooms though. It’s a balance and that is okay.
This was our last full day with our beloved van. It was hard to not think of that all day. I fought it off the best I could. I wanted to be completely present. To enjoy every second we had left.
Delicious hash browns for breakfast. We were able to enjoy the process of cooking a little more thanks to a 20 degree difference between Frisco and Colorado Springs. It made the morning routine a little more enjoyable as we prepared to hit the road again.
We packed up quickly so we could take advantage of every drop of daylight. Garden of the Gods was the first stop on the route back to Denver.
The trailhead we picked was a little bit off the normal area. A result of a wrong turn I believe. We decided it was worthy of exploring anyways. It would be 6 more months until I realized the universe picked this spot for me. The same exact view from 60 year old pictures in my possession.
After we hiked a few miles through the area, we hustled back to the van to head towards another area we had marked to explore. The trailhead wasn’t far away and was near a waterfall. It sounded like a win-win.
Turns out it was a gated waterfall you had to ride the shuttle to get into despite being able to walk to the gate. It also cost per person. I have no idea how we missed this in planning. I do so much research, I was curious how I missed that. Oh well.
It was our last full adventure day so we forked over the money and proceeded to look out of place with our daypacks in a clearly tourist-only zone. It made for some good laughs.
Seven Falls was an interesting experience but we raced to the shuttle so we could get back to the van. We wanted to find a home earlier than usual so we could enjoy our last night with our rainbow-striped rig.
Cheyenne Mountain State Park gave us exactly what we needed. A beautiful place to end our last day and a beautiful way to start the beginning of the end. It had a nearby bathroom; electrical access; an amazing view; a level parking spot. Sold.
We watched a wildfire start to our west near the military base. It was contained before we left the next day. I stared out from our campsite at the flatness. We were really at the end of the mountains. It was strange to be in such flat land; even as a flatlander.
I was not ready for the day to end. Tomorrow we would have to say goodbye to a van that had become a 3rd member of this trip. It possessed some special power that unlocked something in both of us. Something that allowed us to actually relax and enjoy our moments, even the type 2 ones.
It was the perfect way to spend quality time together before she jumped the pond. Exactly what our friendship needed; exactly what our souls asked for. A trip that has sparked an adventure list that will begin as soon as Jen returns in 2020.
Okay so we processed a lot as we made dinner and watched the world fade away. Heater plugged in of course. Taking advantage of amenities.
Day 7 – Morning would come quicker than ever before. I rolled over and saw the most beautiful light beginning to peek through the back windows. We left the curtains intentionally as we wanted to wake by sunrise. I rolled the other direction and caught the growing glow in the side mirror. I rose just in time to watch rays of golden reach out to coat the mountains behind us and the city in front of us.
The reflection in the windows of the van. It was a blessing for our last day.
We took a little longer to get ready and make breakfast. I don’t think we were in a rush to turn in our van. The thought made my heart feel heavy.
We hit the road again towards Denver to turn in the van. A car wash was a necessity beforehand. A nice vacuuming and a chance for us to recollect our gear and repack before drop off was much needed. A gray water dump too!
I am still not quite sure what the people at the car wash thought about us with our lives strewn along the curb of the car wash near the vacuums. We just laughed and kept packing. We probably should have taken advantage of the showers at the RV park. Oops. Sorry in advance to our Air BnB shower later this night.
Drop-off was 1 p.m. We pulled in with minutes to spare. This was it. The beginning of the end. The rest of the trip was just logistics basically. Air BnB, Ubers, and airplanes. We retrieved our suitcases we stashed at the van depot and packed up our last few items. This was it. Was this really it?
The van got a clean bill of health and we signed the final papers and that was it. Was that it? We left our unused items in the pantry and paid it forward for the ones we used when we arrived.
We walked out of the doors, luggage in tow. Staring at that rainbow happy place one last time. Trains, ubers, and airplanes.
Our AirBnB wasn’t too far away. We made it there and got settled into our upstairs room. Our hosts told us about a little park not far in their neighborhood that was also close to a grocery store. Win. We were hungry and we needed to decompress and also delay the ending of our trip. Explore a little more.
The directions from the hosts led us to a beautiful little park with a giant lake filled to the brim with geese. We sat watching them until a chain reaction of hundreds of geese started flying out of the pond. It was equal parts mesmerizing and terrifying.
At the grocery store, we basically bought cookies for dinner. Cookies and candy. An 8-year-olds dream dinner. I was walking down the street eating from a giant container of cookies. It was fine. Everything was fine.
I felt bad for our Air BnB hosts. They were truly rad people I would totally be friends with if I lived in Denver. That is part of the reason I picked their place. (Full disclosure: they also had a huge rescue dog which also played a large role in the decision) However, by this part of the trip, we were both tired, needed showers, and were not happy the trip was ending. We stayed locked in our rooms except for showers.
We laid in bed with our phones, comparing our trip photos. Sending each other the ones we took of each other or just ones we liked that the other captured. This was it. This was it. Morning wasn’t far away.
Day 8 – This was it. The last morning. We woke early and grabbed an Uber to the airport. Our driver was funny. He made the morning commute into the airport much more enjoyable. Helped break some of the looming sadness in the air. Soon, we would each get back on planes to our home states. We wouldn’t see each other for almost 3 years after that moment. But, how many best friends get a chance to take a great trip together before some big life moment?
The wheels turned slowly as we pulled up to the airport. Most of the time after this is a little bit of a blur to me. My brain replayed the trip and some of its defining moments on a speed replay the rest of the day.
We had to say “see ya later” finally and that was it.
The morals of the story – take a trip with your best friend and off-season travel is always worth it.
Jen stares out from an area at Garden of the Gods towards Pike’s Peak.
The sun rises on our last morning with the van.
Sunrise on our morning at the scenic pull-out over Lake Dillon.
Golden Hour begins at the spot we originally called home in Pike National Forest.
Our first time on the beach in Frisco at Lake Dillon.
On our hike at Rocky Mountain National Park- moments before the moose.
On the ice rink at the airport!
Jen at sunset at Lake Dillon over Peak One.
Hey that is me! At Lake Dillon watching sunset over Peak One.
Brit and Jen and our van! Rocky Mountain NP- Morraine Campground
The photos I took and that my great aunt had.
Garden of the Gods.
Lake with crazy geese problem.
We when said goodbye to our beloved van.
Sunrise on the last morning with the van.
Sunset on our last night with the van.
A trail in Seven Falls.
On our beautiful snowy hike in RMNP.
Hanging out at Bear Lake after our route change.
The van parked in Colorado Springs.
Tiny houses in the RV park! 🙂
Hanging out in Pike National Forest.
Sunset in Pike National Forest.
Pike’s Peak in the background.
This is me. No apologies.
A snowy hike at Rocky Mountain NP.
Frisco selfie filter!
Fairplay-Alma Historic towns.
Cafe in Fairplay-Alma.
Fairplay-Alma historical marker.
Pull-off between Frisco and Alma.
Snowy mountain and trees, please.
Breakfast selfie outside of Frisco.
Frisco is the cutest town.
Sunrise at the scenic pull-off. I-70 W at Lake Dillon.
Sunrise over Lake Dillon.
Morning Light on Peak One. Lookout over Lake Dillon.
Frisco bathroom selfies.
Night time mode. Table to bed.
Frisco decorated for the holidays.
Sunset from a Safeway parking lot. Dillon, Co.
Trailhead outside of Frisco, Co.
View from the lake of the van and Buffalo Mountain.
View of the mountains – Dillon Super 8 edition.
Lake Dillon Selfie with Jen!
Buffalo Mtn. from the lake.
The morning after the snowstorm.
I cannot caption this like an adult.
Snowy little mountain towns in a snowstorm.
Holiday lights in Estes Park.
More Estes Park holiday lights.
Van parked at the Estes Park Mountain Shop. Best little gear shop in the area!
Visitor’s Center bathroom mirror selfies.
On the way to lunch.
Lunch time at a picnic area in RMNP.
Hey there pretty mountains.
Frozen Lake Selfies.
More frozen lake selfies.
Right before we had to change routes.
waiting on Jen at the airport.
Breakfast in RMNP.
Sorry buddy! We don’t feed the wildlife.
Morning in RMNP.
First night in RMNP. Sunset selfies.
Dinner by pop-up light.
Good Morning Rocky Mountains.
We took a lot of selfies with our van.
Using the park photo stand!
Isn’t she beautiful?
Another RMNP sign photo.
Jen outside Estes park.
Parking lot lunch time!
Another Jen outside of Estes park!
Van outside of Estes Park.
First day van selfie.
First morning with the van. Breakfast spot by a lake.
First morning. First stop. In our Pjs by a lake!
One of my fave photos I snagged on the trip.
It was windy!
Freedom is bliss!
Downtown Denver holiday time!
Downtown Denver lights.
Sunset waiting on the train outside Denver. Right after the key fiasco.
Great mission and coffee.
More ice rink selfies.
Flying into Denver at sunrise. First peek at the mountains with snow.