places

A Late September Adventure (Day 3: Denver, CO)

In an unfamiliarly cold haze of morning déjà vu, my alarm once again went off at 4:15 a.m. on Monday. Unwavering from its first episode, I blinked my eyes slowly open, pondering the “what if I just slept through this?” narrative. But as I trudged my way into the bathroom, my toes cold and my stomach surprisingly empty, I once again gave into the promise of adventure. Allison and I were headed to Denver for the second leg of our vacation, and if all it took to get there was to fight through an early alarm, we were in a pretty good spot.

Mike was gracious enough to drive us to the airport, singing and chatting all the way. Allison and I smiled gratefully, both of us an equal level of non-morning person, and we wished him well as we made our way inside. Uncharacteristic of the small Redmond Airport, the security line wrapped around the lobby. Allison and I looked at each other with big, tired eyes, worried our early wake up call wouldn’t prove to be early enough. Luckily, the line moved quick and with a good helping of time to spare, we boarded our flight, took our seats, and promptly knocked out.

Upon arriving in Seattle, we had a slight increase in energy, though nothing more substantial than a battery’s last-ditch effort to power a children’s toy. Quickly after boarding our flight to Denver, we were once again asleep, Allison with her head on the fold down table, and me with a book open on my lap. Thankfully, this nap would prove fruitful, as we touched down in Colorado feeling excited, rejuvenated, and starving. We picked up our bags, took a shuttle to our rental car service, shed our jackets in the warm Colorado sun, and hit the road to downtown Denver.

Now, one thing you should know about the way Allison and I travel is we don’t do a lot of planning. We get the basics settled: the hotel, the rental car, the flights, etc. but from there we tend to wing it. So once we were on the freeway driving through the flat plains surrounding the Denver International Airport, Allison went to work finding us a place to eat lunch by Googling “best places for lunch in Denver.” We referred to this list, and settled on Olive & Finch, whose cute name and unique menu got our taste buds salivating.

I ordered the Hens Can Crow sandwich, whose focaccia bread I will dream about for months to come, and the blueberry lemonade, which I will now inquire about at every restaurant until I find it again. We sat out on the patio, trying to take in the fact that, after months of planning and hoping this trip would come to fruition, we were actually sitting at a restaurant in Denver, and we looked at each other with a smile.

“What should we do first?”

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Remember how I said that Allison and I aren’t ones for planning? Well, lucky for us, we do tend to be, well, lucky. We remembered the Coors Brewery is in Denver, so while we ate lunch we looked up the details involved in taking a tour. As it turned out, tours are only available Thursday through Monday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and seeing as it was Monday at 2:30 p.m. and we were leaving Thursday at 10:30 a.m., we really only had one shot to make it and it just so happened to be right then. So, we hopped back in the car, made a quick pit stop to check into our hotel, and headed straight for the Coors Brewery, where we got in line for the last 5 or 6 buses of the day.

Each bus held about 10-15 people and a tour guide sat in the driver’s seat, pointing out key points of interest en route to the brewery. The ride and tour are free, as are the three beers available to you in the tasting room at the end. Allison and I jumped off the bus and led our group inside the main building, where we were immediately shuffled in line to take a goofy souvenir photo. You know, the kind you never really think about buying…usually.  

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From there we each grabbed an audio guide that you held up to your ear like a telephone. We walked side by side from point to point, fascinated by the brewing process and its history. Occasionally we would look over at each other with wide eyes and dropped jaws, shocked by a shared factoid, such as the plant’s distribution of its by-products to aid in the production of cat food.

Once we reached the tasting room, we immediately hopped in line to order the first of our three free beers. We each started with a Sandlot, which is brewed by Blue Moon, a Coors affiliate. We clinked our glasses and made our way through the room whose walls are covered with old Coors advertising memorabilia, and found a high table to lean our elbows on and enjoy our beers. We also made a stop at the vending machines stocked with salty snacks and split a bag of pretzels before getting back in line for our second drink. On this round, I ordered a Coors Banquet and Allison got a Killian’s Red. Halfway through this beer, we found ourselves a little lighter. We leaned against our table and laughed at old stories we’d told each other time and time again, and then got in line for our third and final beer.

“Oranges or no oranges?” the bartender said as he poured our Blue Moons. I said none, Allison said she’d take mine, and then we cheers-ed. This time we turned a different way away from the bar, landing us face to face with the photo counter that offered the souvenir photos we’d taken at the beginning of the tour.

“Oh my gosh,” we laughed into our glasses, “we HAVE to see these.”

After seeing the end results, we decided we also HAD to buy them. I got this one, where we’re just a couple of gals in cowboy hats, standing in the middle of a river:

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And Allison got the same picture with other available background, making us just a couple of gals in cowboy hats, standing in front of the Coors ice mountain:

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Neither purchase was met with even an ounce of regret.

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From the Coors brewery we took the bus back to our car and drove around downtown Golden for a little while. We stopped at a picturesque park full of runners, bikers, and loungers alike. We drove through the campus of the Colorado School of Mines, slightly jealous of the scenery they are surrounded with, though not jealous enough to wish we were back in school. We traversed the Lariat Loop Scenic Byway, constantly oohing and awing at the views it offered at every turn. Then, in another predictably unpredictable decision of an Allison/Kim adventure, we decided to drive 40 minutes into Boulder, Colorado to look around and eat ice cream.

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We stopped at Heifer and the Hen, a little ice cream shop outside of downtown Boulder that had swings to eat your ice cream on. I ordered the burnt honey in a waffle cone, the taste of which was delicious, though not as delicious as it could have been if they hadn’t run out of candied pecans.

Dear anyone in Boulder or its surrounding areas, if you happen to stop by Heifer and the Hen, please try this combination and report back whether it’s the greatest things you’ve ever tasted. Also, request to name this order “The Kim” on the menu. Thanks.

From there we drove through downtown Boulder, noting the Pearl Street Mall as a possible destination for the next day and then headed back to our hotel.

Even though we were tired from the day’s travels, we lay on our neighboring beds and talked for hours, about anything and everything, some things we probably didn’t even know we wanted to talk about. It was one of those conversations that goes in every direction for as long as need be; the kind of conversation we all hope to have once in a while; the kind that makes you feel known and understood. So as our eyes started to get heavy, we got under our covers and turned the lights out.

“Good night,” we said to each other, and it wasn’t because we felt we had to or because we couldn’t think of anything else to say, it was because it was true.

A Late September Adventure (Day 2: Bend, OR)

At home, a typical September Sunday morning usually consists of church, with the occasional play of hooky to watch a Giants football game on television. They are always slow moving and relaxing and comfortable, which made this Sunday morning in Bend feel just like home. After getting the chance to catch up on some sleep, Allison and I curled up under a blanket on the couch and talked about nothing.

Oftentimes being a guest in someone’s home creates a kind of pressure on both sides where both parties want the other to feel comfortable and happy. But there is a special kind of magic when you can just sit and exist and not feel like a guest at all but rather a member of the family. Allison and I talked about our plans for the day and lazed around a little bit longer than we probably should have, but it gave the day a perfect start.

Around 11:00 we went to Jackson’s Corner, one of my favorite places from the last trip I took to Bend (which you can read about here), where I once again got The Cristo, the French toast sandwich I’d been dreaming about ever since. This time I remembered to take a picture:

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giphy (17)From there we went to the Lava River Cave, where I got to sport my first winter coat of the season as we walked through a mile long underground lava tube. Mike, Allison and I walked side by side, shining rented flashlights into the pitch dark, making jokes about what it would be like to get stuck down there, while all silently agreeing it would probably be the worst thing ever. We walked up close to the damp, textured formations on the walls and in the dirt, having a constant stream of “I can’t believe this exists right alongside us” moments. By the time we were back up the 150 stairs that lead into the cave, the sun felt as hot as it looked bright and we hobbled our way back to the car, still in awe of what we’d just experienced.

One thing I’ve come to learn about Bend is that with its easy access to breweries, there’s always a bar or restaurant close by to unwind with a cold one. So after our trek through the lava tube, it was only fitting that we head to Atlas Cider Co. to have a drink and watch some late afternoon football. I ordered the apricot cider and Allison ordered the pineapple mango cider, both of which hit the spot perfectly, and we each helped ourselves to a bag of free popcorn the pub offers in the back room next to the arcade.

We were all in between bouts of hunger, wondering what we should do with rest of our evening. But as we sipped our ciders and munched our popcorn, we decided the best plan was least related, in other words it consisted of tacos, cinnamon rolls and wine.

For the tacos we went to El Sancho, where Allison recommended everything and I settled on carne asada and carnitas. For the cinnamon rolls we went to the grocery store where we braved buying ingredients to bake them homemade, the results of which were everything we hoped for. And for the wine we went home, where we uncorked the bottle in the refrigerator, turned on the Emmy’s and let another good day come to a close.

A Late September Adventure (Day 1: Bend, OR)

At 4:15 a.m. my alarm went off and my eyes blinked slowly open. Waking up seemed impossible, unbearable, illogical, but somehow I dragged myself into the bathroom, turned on the surface of the sun grade light, and brushed my teeth.

It was 6:00 when I got to the airport, and everyone seemed to be thinking the same thing as me: why the hell are we here this early? followed closely by: because the adventure ahead will be worth it.

I boarded my first flight, and almost immediately after my butt hit the seat, my eyes closed. The flight attendant walked by and tapped me on the shoulder, informing me that while I was more than welcome to sleep, I was also sitting next to the emergency exit. Me and the other three people sitting in the row were required to audibly agree to our responsibilities in case of emergency, but judging how fast the lot of us fell mouths open asleep after take off, I’d say the plane was pretty lucky they didn’t need us.

On my second flight, I was sat next to a man who immediately pulled out a laptop and began furiously typing. I pulled out my copy of The Glass Castle and read the last few chapters, all the while feeling my stomach begin to churn and my fingers begin to fidget.

The first day of any vacation is the hardest for me. Expectations run rampant through my mind, promising to be let down. I knew my best friend was waiting patiently for me on the other side of this flight and I worried that the stories I’d been waiting to tell her wouldn’t be interesting or exciting enough. What if the distance between us had made us grow apart? What if this trip wasn’t everything we’d been hoping it would be?

The captain came on the intercom and announced our initial descent into Redmond, Oregon, and for a split second I wished I could stay on the plane forever, free from all the responsibilities to satisfy, impress and succeed that awaited me on the ground. But before I knew it, the wheels hit the pavement and the plane rolled to a stop. I walked through the terminal to the baggage claim, knowing there was no turning back now.

When I stepped outside, I saw my best friend, Allison, waiting by her car, her dog Jersey’s head poking out of the back seat. A wave of relief washed over me as we made a series of nerdy jumps and squeals to close the distance between us and initiate the hug we’d been waiting 6 months for.

“How are you?!” she said, and her voice in my ear was a startling reminder that she was no longer a text message or an email or a late night notification on Instagram, she was a living breathing person that I call my best friend, and we had finally been reunited.

“So we have an interesting afternoon ahead of us,” she said once I got in the car.

“Tell me more.”

Being a producer for a news station in Bend, Oregon, and the girlfriend of an anchor for a rivaling news station, Allison had been challenged to race her boyfriend—and fight for her channel’s honor—in a heated, balls out, tricycle race.

We stopped by her house for a quick change of clothes, she squatted and mimed tricycle riding motions to ensure she’d chosen a good pair of pants, and then we drove into town, where the Bend Oktoberfest—sure, it was September and we were a bit confused, but we won’t talk about it—was in full swing.

Beer steins were in every hand, pretzels crumbs were on every face and there was one very bold man sporting lederhosen. We took a seat on the bleachers that sandwiched the 200ft tricycle course and, alongside Allison’s boyfriend Mike, stared at the incredibly small tricycles, wondering how on earth either of them would not only fit aboard, but operate them in a way that would lead to success.

The first heat of racers left the starting line, giving life to every fear we had. Grown men leaned and wobbled and one woman let out a terrified squeal. Allison and Mike shared a glance, then took their places in line, fitted themselves with a helmet, and shrugged at me with a “here goes nothing.”

In the end, neither of them came out on top. While Allison finished in a close 2nd place, Mike’s long legs proved to be his greatest enemy and a resounding reminder that he was in fact an adult trying to operate a children’s bike. We all shrugged a collective shrug, then agreed that pizza was the obvious next step.

Mod Pizza, which is a build it yourself Pie-ology/PizzaRev equivalent, proved to be the ultimate right choice for our lunching festivities. I ordered a chicken, corn, tomato, red onion and feta masterpiece, then allowed myself to be tempted by the “no name cakes” that sit next to the cash register.

Tip: Always get the No Name Cake. It’s like a freshly made Ding Dong that your taste buds need.

Back at Allison’s house, we took a seat on the couch and let the conversation start flowing. We covered the topics that sat just below the surface, shared a few current music obsessions, and looked out the window at the impending fall weather.

At 5:30, we drove over to see Mike’s 6 o’clock show, where he Ron Burgundy-ed Bend’s latest news. Allison and I sat off camera, a mere 50 feet from him, in fold up chairs. She watched with trained eyes, all too familiar with the format and production of a newscast, and I sat with my hands in tight fists, worried I might accidentally scream or sneeze or pass out and ruin the show.

Afterwards, the three of us drove out to The Bite in Tumalo, which is essentially a corner street park converted into a homey picnic area with food carts, a fire pit, corn hole, and a bar with a ton of beers on tap. We all ate at Ronin Sushi & Japanese Grill, which, bottom line was delicious, but listen to me and listen to me now. Do yourself a favor and order the Bento Box with the Japanese fried chicken. Listen to me when I tell you that anything else is a mistake. Listen to me when I tell you that while I’d previously never heard of Japanese fried chicken, it’s also safe to say I was previously living a dark and dingy life. Also, from the bar, I’d recommend the Atlas Blackberry Cider, it tastes like the mature, has-their-shit-together-cousin of red wine.

Once we were thoroughly full, though not even close to finished harping on the magic that is JFC—Japanese fried chicken, a.k.a the new, improved and as far as I’m concerned ONLY colonel of protein I’d like to associate with—Mike headed back to work to prepare for the late show and Allison and I went to McMenamins.

Now, if I had a way to explain McMenamins briefly, I would, but I feel as though that would be both dishonest to you and a disservice to McMenamins. On their Facebook page, they tag themselves as related to pubs, breweries, historic hotels, concert venues, wineries, distilleries, coffee roasters, movie theaters, golf, and spas, and honestly that should tell you everything you need to know about this place, which is that you’ll probably never know everything there is to know about this place.

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Allison took me through an outdoor cigar lounge and into a building with dark carpet and wood paneled walls.

“We’re going to find the secret bar,” she said, “but first you have to find all the other secret rooms.”

I looked up and down the hallways, seeing nothing out of the ordinary, then I looked back at her.

“The only clue I’m going to give you is blue light,” she said.

And while I’d love to be the spiller of all secrets, Internet, this is the only clue I will leave you with as well. Just know that it is actually a great clue and that there are hidden doors among the wood paneled walls that lead you into rooms like this:

As well as a hidden bar that will give you some major speakeasy feels upon discovery.

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I’d like to say I Sherlocked my way through every puzzle and celebrated with a beer at the top, but unfortunately a handful of people in front of us ended up giving away a bunch of the secrets. So after checking in at the secret bar, we made our way back down to the car and over to Bonta Gelato. Allison and I both got waffle cones full of goodness—I recommend the Vanilla Bourbon Pecan!—and cheers-ed to the first day of our adventure.