denver

A Late September Adventure (Day 5 & 6: Boulder, Morrison & Home Again)

Day 5

Since we had fully committed ourselves to Boulder rather than Denver at this point, Allison and I woke up Wednesday morning and didn’t even think twice about where we wanted to eat breakfast.

Referring to this list this time, we decided on The Buff, mostly because I was hypnotized by the Pecan Caramel Quesadilla sampler.

Spoiler alert: it was everything I hoped it would be.

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For our entrees, Allison ordered the Saddlebags which are pancakes stuffed with bacon, and I ordered the Granola Pancakes which, if I’m honest, I felt like I was expecting too much of after the crunchy granola French toast from Syrup in Denver. It’s not that they were bad, they just…weren’t the granola French toast from Syrup, you know?

Allison and I had kind of a tight schedule to fit today. Our primary reason for coming to Denver in the first place was to see two of our favorite artists, Needtobreathe and Gavin Degraw, join forces at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre for what was sure to be the concert of a lifetime. We’d planned our trip around the concert, scheduling it to be somewhat of a grand finale.

The concert was at 7:00 on Wednesday night in Morrison, which was 20 minutes from our hotel, but after a recommendation from a friend we decided to visit the Rocky Mountain National Park, which was north of Boulder, just under 2 hours from our hotel. As we ate our breakfast at 11:30 in Boulder, we knew we had enough time, we just didn’t have enough time for anything to go wrong.

Misleading Spoiler Alert: Nothing went wrong.

We arrived at Rocky Mountain National park around 1:00. The cost for a day’s (or hour’s) entrance was $20, but trust me when I say that it is worth EVERY PENNY.

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Allison and I pulled off the road at a couple of spots, taking pictures and making an uncontrollable amount of audible “OH MY GOSH’s.” The sky was absolutely perfect, the fields and trees were a living breathing kind of green, and every once in a while a burst of a breeze would blow right through you, forcing you to close your eyes and take a long, deep breath. It was one of those places that I don’t think you could ever feel like you spent enough time in. You become instantly attached to every inch of it, wishing there was some way you could keep it with you, to remind you how perfect the world can be at the times when it seems farthest from it.

Just before 7 o’clock, we pulled into the parking lot for the concert. We had plans of eating before we went, but ran a little short on time, so as we waited in line alongside the massive red rocks, we started brainstorming on what we hoped would be offered inside. And while it never would have crossed my mind in one million years, as is turned out, bratwurst was exactly what I was craving. Allison and I both ordered a beer and a bratwurst with cheese, chili, onions and peppers and my stomach all but applauded in thanks.

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For the concert, the opening act was The New Respects, who kind of gave me a Jackson 5 vibe. They were very upbeat and melodic and made you want to dance right alongside them. The second act was The Lone Bellow. They ended up replacing Gavin Degraw due to unforeseen circumstances and had a Lumineers/Civil Wars sound. After their first few songs, the lead singer took the mic and addressed the crowd, saying, “I was at a bar in Denver last night, and I met the most beautiful soul. He was singing at an open mic night and I’ve never seen someone exude so much light when they perform.” He said he talked to the man afterwards and learned that at the age of about 60, the man had already beat cancer twice and was currently fighting another disease. But even amongst all of his struggle, the man said that when he sang, he felt no pain.

“So I thought,” the lead singer continued, “why don’t we bring him out to sing with us?”

The man then walked on stage with a wide smile spread across her face. I, of course, instantly started crying. And as the four of them started singing “Angel from Montgomery” by Bonnie Raitt, the tears kept on coming. The lead singer had been right about the man’s ability to exude light when he sang and as I watched them all sing together, I got that feeling in the pit of my stomach that I was witnessing something really special.

Next was Needtobreathe, who is not only my favorite band, but my favorite live artist of all time. This was my 5th time seeing them and Allison’s first, which I think is what made the performance my favorite of theirs by far. We danced, we laughed, we cried, we stood speechless, and to top it all off, we did so in by far the coolest venue I’ve ever been to. If you’re ever in the Denver area, please do yourself a favor and see a show at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre. And if you’re ever in the Denver area—or anywhere else really—at the same time as Needtobreathe, please do yourself a favor and see them live. It will change your life.



 

Day 6

Our last day in Colorado came with an early wakeup call. It wasn’t our earliest, but it was by far our hardest. We packed our bags and gathered the last of our belongings from our hotel room. We checked out, returned our rental car and took a shuttle to the airport. There was mild conversation, but it all had an invisible weight brought on by the prospect of leaving.

In a couple hours, I’d be on a flight back to California and Allison would be headed back to Oregon. We didn’t know when we’d see each other again, and we were well aware we’d be going back to a friendship that mostly exists through texts, emails and phone calls squeezed in between our very busy and very different schedules.

Our gates were right next to each other and our flights were leaving one minute apart, so once we got through security, we sat side by side in a pair of chairs directly between the two doors we’d soon be walking through. We watched the screens update our flight information and we listened to the intercom announce the arrivals and departures of surrounding planes. We fantasized about getting on a different plane. Making this vacation last a little longer. Avoiding responsibilities for even just a day or two more. But then a woman’s voice came on the speaker and announced it was time for us both to board. We stood from our seats and gave each other a hug, both of us feeling the separation anxiety starting to set in quick.

I walked up to the counter and scanned my ticket with the agent, then walked down the jet bridge alone. I waited in line behind a man with a giant carry on suitcase and then took my window seat near the back of the plane and plugged in my headphones. As the rest of the passengers continued to board, I got a text from Allison.

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I looked out the window of my plane, over at the series of windows on the neighboring plane, wondering where my best friend was sitting, feeling weird that after almost a whole week of being together 24/7, we weren’t sitting together. Then, as my eyes grazed the middle of the plane, I saw something.

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I smiled. It was moments like these that made me feel confident in the upcoming days and months we’d spend apart. Because even when things got tough, we’d always be there for each other to shine a little light and help each other out. So as my plane backed out onto the runway, I leaned back in my seat, sad this trip was over, but optimistic and excited about the many adventures to come.

A Late September Adventure (Day 4: Boulder, CO)

After another slow, relaxing morning, Allison and I made our way back into Denver for breakfast. This time we referred to this list, and decided on Syrup, not only because the name screams BREAKFAST, but also because the menu boasted items such as “breakfast pizza” and a “pancake and waffle flight.” I ended up trying the “crunchy French toast”, which is the breakfast classic fried in granola and I was instantly obsessed.

The restaurant was found inside a suite in a downtown building, so when we walked back outside, we expected to be thrust into the hustle and bustle of the city. Strangely, however, we found the city to be a far cry from those we were familiar with. The streets were almost silent. Coming from Los Angeles, I felt a strange yearning for honking and cursing and yelling and then immediately felt ashamed about it. Maybe cities could exist without all of that. But then, as we drove around, checking out Coors Field and the surrounding streets, I also started to wonder, was I too far gone to enjoy a city that didn’t?

“Okay, things to do in Denver,” I mumbled to myself as I did a Google search on the side of the road. “Uhhh, want to go see this nosey blue bear?”

“Sure,” Allison said, and she got to work on directions.

Meet the nosey blue bear, also known as the “Big Blue Bear” that stands outside of the Colorado Convention Center:

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To be fair, I’m not sure if we totally gave Denver a shot. After checking out the Baloo the peeping bear, we drove around a little bit more, before ultimately heading back to the city that had stolen our hearts: Boulder.

We made the 40 minute trek, found a parking spot just outside the Pearl St. Mall and spent the next few hours walking from store to store. We walked up both sides of the mall, taking in the many unique art installations that peppered its sidewalks, we browsed boutiques that boasted price tags we could only dream to ignore, and we spent far too much—which really means not enough—time in a local bookstore.

Around 4 o’clock, we got back in the car and once again let our Googling thumbs decide where we should go next.

“Do you want to go to The Leanin’ Tree?” I asked Allison.

“What’s that?”

I shrugged and clicked to view the Yelp reviews. “This person says, ‘Amazing and free’”

At the sound of our two favorite words, Allison immediately buckled her seatbelt and typed in the address.

About 15 minutes later, we were pulling into a parking lot. A small “Leanin’ Tree” sign let us know we were in the right place, but when we parked our car and looked out the passenger window, passed the wooden fence marked “Leanin’ Tree,” we were still unsure. It was a park with a bunch of bronze sculptures grouped closely together.

“I was kind of expecting a…uhhh…a tree,” Allison said.

“Me too.”

Allison went to work on her phone, trying to figure out where exactly we were, then she looked up at me with a frown. “I think it’s closed.”

I glanced down at the clock: 4:15.

“Dangit. Did it close at 4?”

Allison shook her head. “No. I mean, I think it’s closed forever.”

She showed me her phone. An article read: “Boulder closes Leanin’ Tree Museum after 40 years of service.”

We both sighed. The article was dated only a few weeks ago. I sat back in my seat, wondering what we should do next and Allison leaned into the glass of her window.

“You know,” she said. “The gate is open.”

We got out of the car. At the very least, we figured we could at least get a closer look at the statues and maybe take a picture with one or two.

(Which we did)

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We walked through the gate and followed the sidewalk around to a set of double doors.

“Should we go inside?” I asked.

Allison shrugged and opened the door.

Inside we found a large desk with two women sitting behind it.

“Hello,” the woman on the left said. “Feel free to look around. To the right is our Christmas room.”

This woman then walked away. As if “to the right is our Christmas room” is a completely casual thing to say. Allison and I exchanged a look, and without saying a word, we both b-lined to the “Christmas Room.”

What is a Christmas Room you might ask? Well, it’s EXACTLY what it sounds like. After turning the corner in the beige walled, grey-carpeted lobby, we were thrust into a candy apple red, frosted shelf, Christmas trinket wonderland. Tables and shelves were COVERED in Christmas decorations, holiday knick-knacks and seasonal greeting cards. Santas came in every size. Everything was sprinkled with glitter. Every closed box promised the potential of a jingle. Allison and I looked at each other and immediately started laughing.

WHERE THE HELL WERE WE?!

We stood in the Christmas room for a few minutes, until we felt we were composed enough to face the women at the desk again, then walked back out into the lobby. This time the woman on the right stood to greet us.

“Hello,” she said. “Do you know what we do here?”

“No,” we said desperately in unison.

“Well we used to have a Western Art museum, but that recently closed. Our main source of work here, however, is greeting cards.”

Greeting cards?

She gestured to her left. “Feel free to look around.”

We followed her hand to the room on the other side of the desk. Inside we found a collection of, well, everything. There was jewelry, there were t-shirts, there were hand painted wooden signs that mom’s hang in their garden. There were candles and perfumes and purses and a collection of 50% off posters of the western art the museum used to display. To top it all off, when you moved to the back of the store, you were led into another room FULL of greeting cards. We’re talking aisles and rotating displays and shelves and tables full of greeting cards for every occasion.

Again, we asked ourselves, where are we?!

Regardless of the answer, we spent a good 45 minutes inside, looking at absolutely EVERYTHING. Just after 5 o’clock, we made our way back to the counter, where we purchased the following items:

A Colorado post card

2 greeting cards

A child XL t-shirt with a brontosaurus standing under the night sky

A mason jar with an apron inside that said, “you look radishing”

Only the essentials, obviously.

When we got back in our car, we calmly set our purchases in the backseat, buckled our seatbelts, then looked at each other and let out another loud, long laugh. Once we were composed, we went in search of a snack before dinner.

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We had planned to watch the sunset up at a friend-recommended spot known as Realization Point, and thought that popcorn sounded like something good to munch on. Long story short, we spent the next hour looking for Doc-Popcorn, which our maps had two locations for in Boulder, only to find out that neither of them exist. SO, we settled for smoothies instead, stopping at a place called Wonder to satisfy that craving.

While seated at a table in the very trendy, brick walled café, Allison put both hands flat on the table.

“I don’t feel very well,” she said. “I feel like I’m about to have a panic attack.”

I’ve never had a panic attack, but I’ve read enough to sympathize with their unpredictable nature and paralyzing symptoms. I took a big gulp of my smoothie. “How can I help?”

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Allison stood from the table and we made our way back to the car and up the hill to Realization Point. She said she wanted to take in the sunset and then we agreed to pick up something light for dinner and head back to the hotel to watch a movie. As we drove, she apologized, feeling guilty even though she had no reason to. I knew she felt like she was “ruining the evening” and I worried she had thoughts she was somehow ruining the trip.

I think we all tend to put so much pressure on ourselves when we’re on vacation. Like we need to feel our best all the time or we’re just wasting our time. So often we forget that part of vacation is rest. It’s having the time to recognize the feelings our busy workdays may require us to harbor.

Allison and I spend most of our time thousands of miles apart, so the best part of any vacation together is that freedom to get be on vacation together. Whether that’s going on some crazy, adrenaline pumping adventure, or staying up late talking about everything, or tucking in early to call it a night. So as we made our way home with some soup and a movie, I had no worries this vacation was in danger of being ruined. In many ways, it had already been more that I could have ever imagined.