Category Archives: US Road Trip

rhapsodic.

[rap-sod-ik]

adjective

  1. extravagantly enthusiastic; ecstatic.
  2. pertaining to, characteristic of, or of the nature or form of rhapsody.

While driving through the Smoky Mountains to get to Asheville, green overwhelmed me until I was utterly rhapsodic. There were so many different shades, I took my sunglasses off to make sure I was seeing it right. Highlighter green, deep kale green, Ninja Turtle green–it was overwhelming compared to the ever abundant evergreen trees I’ve been seeing lately. After driving through 17 states in four months, North Carolina is still my favorite. When I told my mom this, she said, “Oh good, then you don’t have to move to Idaho!”

We’ll see! I hate that I didn’t have time to see many Carolina friends. I am going home sooner than I thought to attend a memorial service for an extended family member.

I’m loving snuggling with precious baby boy Holden, my college friends’ 17-day-old son, in Raleigh until Friday. He’s perfect.

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sang-froid.

[French sahnfrwa]

noun

  1. coolness of mind; calmness; composure:

An hour ago, I applied to be one of Backpacker Magazine’s National Park Scouts. I’d travel around for a year to find adventure, test out new gear, meet folks visiting the parks, and then write about it. I was allotted 100 words to convince the hiring team that I’m their gal, that they can stop searching, and that my bags are already packed. There was no time for sang-froid. I couldn’t be calm and composed, I had to be excited and forward. And if by some stroke of luck, I become “Beth Hardin, National Park Scout, 2015”, I will have some kind of badge made and I guarantee I will not have sang-froid when I tell each of you about it.

Must see, must read, must sip list: hikes, bookstores, and coffee shops in Estes Park, CO

Estes Park, CO houses all you could ever want and you might start looking for real estate. Estes (pronounced “Est-is”, not “Est-ees”) has the rockiest mountains, Colorado’s largest collection of whiskey, the strongest coffee, and the friendliest folks (though I’m here in April and not during the summer tourist overload; the friendliness might decrease by July). The main downtown street leads right to the entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park. The following are my favorite hikes, coffee shops, and bookstore (singular, but if there were more, I think this one would still be my favorite).

Inkwell & Brew

I could spend $500 here easily. Everything is beautiful. Prints, stationery, posters, journals made out of wood, it is fantastic. As you browse you can smell the espresso beans being ground. The coffee is delectable and the service is top notch. The baristas made me feel very special until I sat upstairs for a couple hours and heard conversations with other customers. They treat everyone as if they’re special and it kept me coming back.

You might find yourself staying for hours when you hadn’t planned on it and you might become hungry. Worry not! Inkwell & Brew has a variety of wraps, sandwiches, and salads. I had a spinach, brie, dried fig, almond, turkey salad that I would’ve paid $10 for at a restaurant. It was $6 here. So then you can use the $4 you save on the salad to buy stationery. Check them out: http://inkwellbrew.com/

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Mills Lake

Roundtrip: 5.5 miles

Wow. My favorite, but also my first, hike in Rocky Mountain National Park.

I trudged through both soft and icy snow in order to see a panoply called Mills Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. I saw five people on the trail and three of them turned around because every twentieth step would plunge you hip deep in snow. I had Yak Trax (chains that slide on my boots) and two walking sticks made for petite hikers which were waiting for me at the trailhead and I felt like Mills Lake had to be seen. I read that it’s the prettiest lake in the park. So I trudged on with a big smile and a lot of layers.

The trail was well marked in the beginning and then I think I ended up following one fella’s large tracks as he lost the trail. This is the problem with snow covered trails, one wrong move and you’re toast. Cold toast. It turns out he had no idea where he was going. This made the 5.5 mile hike about 6.5 miles.

I followed the fella’s tracks until they ended in a big circle, looking like he stood there, turned around a few times, and then turned back. I knew I had to be close to the lake, so I was totally bummed about having to turn around. I got back to the river and climbed a rock to get the prettiest view. And on top of the rock, I found the trail again!

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Sprague Lake

There’s a half mile walking trail that follows the lake and it’s nice if you don’t have much time…or if you really want to just go sit at Inkwell & Brew. I cannot blame you for that.

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Kind Coffee

The windows face the river. There are plenty of seats, whether you want to be in the middle of it all or on a couch in the back room. The mugs and tshirts all read “Be Kind.” It’s the kind of place Ellen DeGeneres would adore. The coffee is delicious and you get a free refill if you stay in house, which you will want to do.

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Cruising in Rocky Mountain National Park

This might be my favorite past time here. Check out the views from the park:

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Bear Lake

This beauty is only about 500 feet from the Bear Lake parking lot, therefore it has a Disney World feel instead of a National Park feel. The morning I decided to hike to Bierdstadt, a tour bus pulled up as I was starting. This made me walk much faster. I recommend seeing Bear Lake on your way to Bierstadt Lake.

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Bierdstadt Lake

Roundtrip: 4 miles

The trail from Bear Lake to Bierstadt is two miles. It starts out a bit steep, but levels off nicely and has a lovely view from the trail before going into the woods:

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There is a parking lot that leads right to Bierstadt Lake, and that’s why this route is so great. It’s like taking Frost’s road less traveled and it was covered in more than just frost in April. It’s a bit longer and less crowded in the most beautiful way.

Be sure to walk the trail around the lake once you arrive. The view of the Front Range Mountains will take your breath away.

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Nymph Lake

Roundtrip: 3.6 miles (includes Dream and Emerald Lakes)

Park at the Bear Lake parking lot and hike up to the left and you’ll be able to see Nymph, Dream, and Emerald Lakes.

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Dream Lake

As I rounded the snowy corner and saw the mountains dramatically framing half frozen Dream Lake, I gasped. Then I laughed and said, “Wow” under my breath. Dream Lake is just that, an absolute dream. I found a rock in the sunshine and ate a hardboiled egg while I watched the fish swim near me. I looked up when I heard voices and gasped again when I saw two guys walking across the half frozen lake. I’m sure on their side, it was very frozen, but like I said, I was just watching fish swim on my side. I was having such a peaceful lunch until I kept thinking I was going to have to go all It’s a Wonderful Life on them and I would never hear from out of my left ear again.

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The Rock Inn

The Rock Inn has a cabin and lodgelike feel with the fire roaring and live music playing. I believe it stops during the summer, but on Thursday nights currently (April), there is a bluegrass jam session and everyone is welcome. They sounded great and they were having a wonderful time together. I watched it all as I sipped on my two for one red wines (4-6pm is happy hour and they have local beer on tap) and devoured a white pizza. Highly recommended. I will think about The Rock Inn when I think about Estes.

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Gem Lake

Roundtrip: 3.2 miles

This trail starting at the Lumpy Ridge Trailhead is not boring. For one, the view of the mountains is spectacular for most of the walk. Second, there are little chipmunks all over scattering about and being cute, cute, cute. Thirdly, the trail is not boring because there are steep steps and breaks might be necessary; they were for me. Gem Lake is small compared to the others, but it’s peaceful.

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Chapel on the Rock

Just outside of Estes Park in Allenspark, the Chapel on the Rock is worth the fifteen minute drive on highway 7 (also the Peak to Peak Highway that will take you to Brainard Lake to see the Indian Peaks).

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Coffee on the Rocks

As I passed the snowy patio by the river on the way to the front door, I realized I was already overly caffeinated and thought I should come back later. But I saw the sign of specials full of things like “peanut butter lattes” and “sticky candy lattes” and two people were being welcomed by sweet elderly locals and I wanted to stay to take it all in.

“I just want to personally welcome you to Estes. And if you’re ever here at 8:30 in the mornings, we’ll be sure to see you!”

As the local couple left, the barista said, “And that’s why I like working here.”

I went to the back room and sat by the window next to two elderly gentlemen in plaid shirts and faded jeans. They smiled at me and I felt like I belonged.

Will Coffee on the Rocks pass Kind or Inkwell & Brew on my Estes favorite list? Neh. Those two are solidly tied at the top. But Coffee on the Rocks seems to fill a niche as well. It is not downtown, but only about a mile away.

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Summit Coffee Drive Thru

I know you’re excited about hearing my review of the chicken fried latte, but I couldn’t do it. A local told me to not waste my money and when I looked up reviews, others seem to agree. Now you know.

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MacDonald Book Shop

Old MacDonald has more than just a farm. And it’s lovely. It’s not large but the selection somehow doesn’t even suffer from this. The people are kind and the place is charming. Take a seat and start a book.

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The Stanley Hotel

Stephen King was inspired to write The Shining while staying with this family at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park. Because of this, it is creepy. You can buy stickers, patches, plaques, sweatshirts to show everyone you love The Shining and you might lose a couple friends. The Stanley Hotel sits on Wonderview Avenue and it has just that. Since I’m a budget traveler (nice way to say “poor”), I did not eat or drink here, but I sat by the fire and planned my next hike. The whiskey at the Cascades Whiskey Bar is supposed to be divine.

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Bridal Veil Falls

Roundtrip: 6.1 miles

The trail to Bridal Veil Falls starts at the Cow Creek Trailhead. The walk is very easy until the last quarter mile or so, when it becomes steep and you have to climb a few rocks. There were many signs of wildlife here: bear, deer, and elk scat. I’d bring trekking poles in order to look large if you see an animal. And I learned rattlesnakes on the trail hear the vibration of the poles and slither off.

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Enjoy Estes Park! I have no doubt that you will.

derring-do.

[der-ing-doo] noun

  1. daring deeds.

If you are to go walking, hiking, adventuring on your own in Estes Park, CO, you have to have a slice of derring-do. Over a foot of snow fell this weekend and it’s been serene. I’ve watched about19 episodes of Hart of Dixie on Netflix, I’ve enjoyed about 12 cups of coffee. I’ve heated about 3 cups of frozen soup. A girl can’t live on TV, caffeine, and soup alone.

I strapped on my derring-do along with my cousin’s snow shoes and set off to explore.

First, I set up my hammock and sat in it for about four minutes. The snow was falling as I took it all in. The colors looked lovely against the white bright snow.

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Then, I walked to the coffee shop. I saw this fella and his ears. He just stared. I stared back.

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Then that evening, I decided to hike to the sunset and this guy was only about twenty feet away when I looked up:

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The derring-do was lacking a bit here. Or common sense kicked in, and I turned around and took the long route to the sunset.

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And then a day later on another walk:

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I call this one “Greg, John, and Beth”

And then when I was back home watching my cousin’s dog, he started whimpering at the front window. When I went to look:

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And now after four days inside, I can get out after shoveling this driveway. I’ll need a massage ASAP.

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And with my new found freedom, I took a drive to Rocky Mountain National Park and saw these fellas!!

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Wild. I can’t imagine what I’ll see tomorrow. May I have the derring-do to set out to explore some more.

Three months traveling with help exchange vs. one week in Vail

On my drive from Moab, UT to Estes Park, CO, I saw a sign for Vail. I had seen photos of this town and had heard about the famous people who frequent it; I almost expected “Vail” to be written in diamonds on the road sign. I bipped my blinker and decided to use a fancy lodge’s restroom instead of a gas station’s.

Vail is nicely surrounded by huge mountains and they were covered in snow, pleasing the skiers zipping down. I drove past lodge after fancy lodge after extravagant lodge. I felt very less than. I felt dirty, like I hadn’t showered in days. I hadn’t brushed my hair in at least a week, because my brush was in my broken down car for the week in Grand Junction. I was wearing the same boots that hiked over forty miles in the desert and they were filthy. I got out of the car and scooped up some snow to put in my cooler so I wouldn’t have to buy a bag of 99 cent ice to cool down my v8s.

In this moment, I was struck with how different my way of traveling was from the family crossing the street with their skis and Louis Vitton bags. I wondered how much a week at a lodge here would cost, so once to Estes Park, I looked it up:

5-star hotel averages $330

3-star hotel averages $230

To stay one week at a 3-star hotel in Vail, CO, it would cost $1610. Of course, you’d have to add the cost of activities like touring castles and riding in horse-drawn carriages and ice skating and skiing; and then food and beverages. I imagine it’d easily be between $3000-5000 for a week long trip, depending on taste in wine and frequency of room service matched with said wine.

The adventures I’ve taken, New Zealand and this US road trip, have been much different. I learned about help exchange and working a few hours a day for food and lodging, and it opened up a whole new outlook on traveling for me. I can make $2,000 last well over three months (with gas for 11,000 miles, the occasional local amber ale, the not-just-occasional Americano, and a meal out every once in a while). I know not everybody can spend months away from their homes and jobs. I chose to leave my job and I moved out of my apartment, so it has become a lifestyle instead of a vacation. If you are not thrilled with your current situation, I encourage you to look into help exchange here.

Here are pros and cons of help exchange for three months vs. one week in Vail, in my humble opinion:

Help exchange/staying with friends and family and friends of friends or family

PROS

Free housing.

Free food. And it’s so nice to try new things and expand your “go to” food list, like roasted beets with rosemary or pickled mussels.

More destinations. (This four month trip has taken me from FL to NC, OK, NM, AZ, CA, OR, WA, Orcas Island, ID, MT, UT, and CO!)

An extended adventure! So many possibilities. New people to meet. New mountains to climb.

Satisfaction of earning your keep for a few hours of work a day.

An average of a 15 hour work week instead of a 40 hour work week.

Variety. This is a huge bonus for me. Mondays are all different and that is thrilling.

Learning new skills. I never knew how to poach an egg! Or use an electric drill.

Sometimes you’re staying in a really stunning place, on a mountaintop or with a view like this:

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Staying with local people perhaps provides more of a “genuine” experience while exploring a new town.

You get to stay a while and enjoy and not feel bad about taking a nap if you’re exhausted. You’re not wasting $230, you’re resting after working hard for three hours.

CONS

Sometimes you don’t want to pull weeds or clean gutters.

Living out of a suitcase for months at a time.

Being on somebody’s else schedule for part of the day (this can actually be a good thing as well).

Your $2000 will be gone in three months and you will most likely not be saving for retirement as you go. I have a couple part time jobs I can do on the road, but I am definitely not contributing to a 401(k) like I should.

Sometimes you’re staying in a place called “The Gorilla Hut” and the septic tank overflows:

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Staying a week at a 3-star lodge in Vail

PROS

Being able to leave your shampoo and soap in the shower. Seriously, packing everything up after every shower is almost worth the $230.

Nice, comfortable things like bath robes.

Extravagance is downright extravagant.

Control. Freedom. A completely open itinerary.

CONS

It’s only one week.

You no longer have $2,000.

It’s only one week.

Days are most likely packed and you might be exhausted when you return home from “vacation”.

It’s only one week.

You only see Vail.

oology.

[oh-oluh-jee]

noun

  1. the branch of ornithology that studies birds’ eggs.

I do not know an oologist. Dictionary.com picks the word of the day, not me. But I do now know a geologist. He’s a friend of my cousin’s and we went on a hike to Bridal Veil Falls together yesterday. Some people truly enhance a hike and he was one of those people. He noticed and pointed out things I would’ve never seen. We studied sediment and flood lines and rocks that had been recently turned over by bears. My cousin loves flowers and has been studying them all winter in preparation for spring. So we stopped and gawked and took photos. It was lovely and I felt educated by the end of our six miles. My hike would have been “less than” without them.

But I also found this poem by Mary Oliver a couple days ago, and this rings true with me as well. I do enjoy going to the woods alone when my smart cousin and the cool geologist aren’t around.

How I Go To the Woods

Ordinarily, I go to the woods alone, with not a single
friend, for they are all smilers and talkers and therefore 
unsuitable.

I don’t really want to be witnessed talking to the catbirds 
or hugging the old black oak tree. I have my way of 
praying, as you no doubt have yours.

Besides, when I am alone I can become invisible. I can sit
on the top of a dune as motionless as an uprise of weeds, 
until the foxes run by unconcerned. I can hear the almost
unhearable sound of the roses singing.

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If you have ever gone to the woods with me, I must love
you very much.
― Mary Oliver, Swan

panoply.

[panuh-plee]

noun

  1. a wide-ranging and impressive array or display.
    [more at dictionary.com]

Estes Park, Colorado is picture perfect. The charming downtown full of cabin-like looking coffee, book, and ice cream shops ends and the same road runs into the entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park. The aptly named Rocky Mountains serve as the backdrop to every drive, walk, and adventure the people here go on.

I am staying put here for a bit and staying with my dad’s cousin (my dad has the COOLEST cousins and I can’t believe it took me this long to get to know them better, like if I had to answer the question “Who are two of the coolest people you know?” I’d say, “My dad’s cousins, Jill and Cindy.”) Today I applied for temporary work at the Estes Park Brewery and as a delivery person for the telephone directory.

So I decided to get a hike in before work possibly fills my schedule. I trudged through both soft and icy snow in order to see a panoply called Mills Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. I saw five people on the trail and three of them turned around because every twentieth step would plunge you knee deep in snow. I had Yak Trax (chains that slide on my boots) and two walking sticks made for petite hikers which were waiting for me at the trailhead and I felt like Mills Lake had to be seen. I read that it’s the prettiest lake in the park. So I trudged on with a big smile and a lot of layers.

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The trail was well marked in the beginning and then I think I ended up following one fella’s large tracks.. Turns out he had no idea where he was going. This made the 5.5 mile hike about 7 miles. But the scenery was magical.

When I first arrived in Colorado, Cindy had mentioned what to do if I saw wildlife. I asked, “What about if I see a mountain lion?” She smirked and said, “Oh, you won’t even see it. It’ll just have you. No need to worry about what to do. You’re gone.”

So at one point, I was in the middle of nowhere (I knew the trail followed the river, so I didn’t feel like I’d never get out), and was surrounded by cliffs, but I felt very vulnerable in a wide open space. I heard a sound, probably my own footsteps, but it startled me and I looked up. I was just imagining a mountain lion waiting to pounce. About a mile later, I saw tracks in the snow that did not belong to a human. My life flashed before my eyes. One thought was, “Well, what a cool way to go. Being attacked by a mountain lion in Colorado.” Another thought was, “I’m glad I quit my desk job and got to see some beautiful places.” Another was, “I wonder what people will think when they read my notepad on my phone full of my crazy wonderments.”

My next instinct was to call people I love. This was interesting because the people that came to mind were maybe surprising to me. I didn’t call because I knew I was being dramatic and it would worry folks, and I tried to shake the feeling off.

I followed the fella’s tracks until they ended in a big circle, looking like he stood there, turned around a few times, and then turned back. I knew I had to be close to the panoply destination, so I was totally bummed about having to turn around. I got back to the river and climbed a rock to get the prettiest view. And on top of the rock, I found the trail again!

Check out the panoply, people!

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Lost my hat while making the snow angel

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