Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Colorado, minus the heights, I loved it!

Our vacation was fantastic!  No fires near us.  We actually had a camera and these are my pictures for once, not from Google images.  The only problem is that I'm afraid of heights.  I never realized I might have a problem going to Colorado for vacation.  I had never even seen a real mountain and I didn't realize it would feel like a non-stop roller coaster in my stomach driving up and down those INSANE roads.

I actually missed the flat roads of Illinois for once.  How they drive these roads in the winter is crazy to me.  My nephew said we have to come back in the winter for skiing and snowboarding.  Yeah......right.  Only if I could be transported to the resort on the mountain top and left there until it was time to be transported off.  Basically I would need to be air lifted in and out or unconscious.

There was such a steep grade up and down those roads, between Denver and Keystone, that on the way to our resort going down, the brakes were smoking and we had to pull off and pour water on them.
I went into the gas station to look around and calm down.  Everything that said Colorado had bears on it.
I was thinking.... Bears? 
But, but, but..... 
Lions, Tigers, Bears and Sharks eat people.  

I've seen National Geographic and Wild Kingdom T.V. shows...and was scared.  I've always calmed those fears by telling myself, I live in Chicago.  I'll just never go where they live and I'll be fine.  Now I'm beginning to realize there are bears in Colorado.

We got back on the road, I looked up into the clouds, trying not to look at the road and what do I see?  Maybe it's just me, but I see what looks like a friggin bear.  I made Jen snap this picture.  Does a bear poop in the clouds?  Obviously in Colorado they do.....

Once we got to our condos at about 9,300 feet, I just wanted to stay there.  It was beautiful, picturesque.  Condos had full kitchens and grills to save on food expenses, fire places, lots of room, great amenities.  Lodges with pool tables, saunas, a pool, two hot tubs, a little village with shops, bars and restaurants.  A gondola and a ski lift to the very top (12,400 feet) for lunch, hiking and snow tubing in the summer.

The bar/restaurant below on the left (The Kickapoo), is home of the Kickapoo Screw (2 kinds of flavored vodka, rum, orange juice, mango juice and a splash of cranberry juice).  Tip of the day: Altitude+those=you're screwed.  I'll leave those for the younger crowd next time.  The bar/restaurant on the right (The Spoon) had Mimosas, Reggae music, Hummus and fresh cut veges, much more my speed.

My sister was there with her 2 children, many of her friends were there for a camping/hiking trip as well.   We had adventures scheduled for each day we were there.  But I didn't want to drive anywhere and began to realize I'm not the adventurer I obviously thought I was.  Could this be a sign of old age?  I decided to try and face my fears.

Our first scheduled adventure was White Water Rafting on the Colorado River on July 3rd.  Below are pictures Jen snapped when I made Lorens stop the car 1/2 way down the mountain on our way there.  We had to drive 14 miles down a gravel road with thousands of feet drop offs and no guard rails at times.  I felt like I was on a 45 minute roller coaster ride again, falling, falling, falling.  I was shaking and crying and I told them they could leave me there and come back for me after rafting, in 5 hours.

Lorens stopped at this wildlife viewing spot 1/2 way down the mountain and reminded me we were at a "wildlife viewing spot" in the middle of nowhere and there were probably wild animals everywhere.  Possibly even bears.  That worked.  I got back in the car and we continued down.

When we finally got down to the rivers edge, I asked our guide, "So, there's no chance of seeing any bears in this part of the country, right?"  I was sure my family was just messing with me.  I was sure all those pictures of bears on the Colorado souveneirs was just so it looked wild here.  He said, "Oh yeah, there was a bear cub on the rivers edge yesterday during this rafting trip.  I was happy I was on the river and we were able to paddle away.  I knew the mother was probably nearby."

 So after he told me that, 
I knew I'd be staying in the middle of the river
no matter what
possibly forever.

We were paired with another family from Texas.  But my adventurous husband and kids opted for 2 kayaks for a bigger, faster, thrill ride.  I said I'll be in the raft with the family from Texas and the professional river guide.  The family from Texas were so nice and took all these pictures below for us and then e-mailed them to me.

It was sunny and HOT, about 90 degrees.  I assumed, because there was no rain in Colorado lately, the river would be low and slow.  Our guide told us the river water is melted snow from the mountain, it has nothing to do with the low rainfall so far this year.  He said it was very cold and it was at it's highest level today that it had been all season.  He said we WILL be going through some rapids.

This picture below was right as we were getting ready to go through the first set of rapids.  Then she put her camera away until we were through them so she didn't lose it.  So sorry, there's no action shots.  That's me and Marty, the river guide.  Notice the terrified look on my face (probably because I was terrified) and the wind from the approaching rapids blowing my hair back.

The river looked so calm after we went through the rapids (what I assumed were the only rapids we were going to go through) and I thought, look at me, ya big baby.  I'm missing having an adventure, a family moment, because I'm scared.  So I said to our guide, I wish I would have went with Mike in his kayak.  He said, sure, no problem.  He had Mike paddle over and I got into Mike's kayak.  It was beautiful scenery.  We saw a 6 foot round, bald eagles nest high in a tree on the rivers edge, and no bears.  We were all having a great day.

About 2 minutes after I got into Mike's kayak, we turned a bend and BAM.  Freakin rapids again.  And I was thinking, another GREAT idea getting into a kayak Lucy.  Kayaks move much faster than rafts in the rapids.  We were pushed far ahead of our guide.  

Mine and Mikes kayak was immediately caught on some rocks, sideways.  We managed to get off but then we hit a huge wave sideways.  We were both flipped out of the kayak into the rapids.  

The kayak was upside down on top of my head.  Mike pulled it off and said "Mom, I have to flip it over so we can climb back in."  I was swallowing 50 degree water and couldn't catch my breath.  The cold water was taking my breath away and I was also frozen in fear.  I forgot everything our guide told us to do if you fall in like DON'T drag your feet, DON'T face the rapids, climb back into your kayak quickly.   So what did I do?  I let go of the kayak and faced the rapids, scared of the rocks and undertow in the middle that were quickly approaching again.  Mike was busy flipping the kayak over and climbing back into it, like I should have been doing.  

I was bopping up and down, swallowing water, choking, racing down the rapids like a rag doll.  I lost our oars, they were already 50 feet ahead of me, near Lorens & Jen's kayak.  I was dragging my feet, swallowing water.  Everything our guide warned us NOT to do if we fall in.  

My eyes met Lorens'.  He knew I was in trouble.  He pointed to the shoreline.....WHERE THE BEARS LIVE.   So I stayed right in the middle of the rapids.  Lorens, thinking I didn't see the shoreline, literally jumped into the rapids, swam towards me and held out my oar to me, which he had pulled out of the river.  I grabbed on and he pulled me towards him into the slower moving water where Jen had positioned their kayak.  Jen pulled him into the kayak by his life jacket and then he pulled me 1/2 way in by my life jacket.  Mike got his kayak over there and then they did a hand off with me like a football by my life jacket.  They all seemed to have super human strength.

Our guide caught up with us and told us those were great "self rescues."  He told Lorens he was only a minute away from catching up to us and throwing me a rescue rope.  So my husband was a minute ahead of the professional.  A very important minute.  He said Lorens shouldn't have jumped in on purpose, it's against the rules.  Lorens said, "Dude, that's my wife, there are no rules."
My husband, 

Then we stopped at a natural hot spring along the river to warm up in after being in the 50 degree water.

About 20 minutes later, as I was still trying to catch my breath, Jen, Lorens and our guide each jumped off of an almost 40 foot cliff into the Colorado River.  THAT'S LORENS BELOW JUMPING OFF THE CLIFF, not me, I'm not to that point yet.  I was down there, looking up at him in awe.  Thinking, that's MY MAN and I'm a very lucky woman.  He saved my life and then jumped off of a cliff.  Yep, I married Superman.  Superman married Lucy Ricardo.  
My beautiful family:  Jen, Lorens & Mike. 

I'm so glad I faced my fear of heights that day and went down that mountain.  I thought that was the big fear I had to face that day, ha ha.  I'm so glad that in a life or death situation in the rapids we were there for each other, as family should be.   It was a great family bonding experience and the adventure was well worth everything.

The next day was Independence Day/July 4th.  I asked Lorens to make me a cup of coffee.  The first words out of his mouth were, "I pulled you out of the Colorado River and you want me to make you a cup of coffee?"  So I got up and made the coffee.  Great Lucy, you'll never live this one down.  But that's alright, he earned it in my book.

There was a nationwide heat wave except up on the mountain where we were.  There was even snow at the very top and we decided to go snow tubing, it was the last week it was open.  We got to the gondola (that I talked myself into going on, so that I could go tubing with my family).

They said "SORRY, the gondola isn't running today.
You'll have to take the SKI LIFT up. "
The open air, 
your feet are dangling,
 non-enclosed, SKI LIFT.
I froze.  
I told them to just go ahead without me.
They had reservations and no time to argue with me.

I went back to the condos where my sister and niece reminded me about how glad I was I went down the mountain for the white water rafting adventure.  I said you're right, I'll do it, I don't want to miss out on anything.  So about an hour later (after 2 mimosa's), I rode up on the ski lift with one of the nice workers, Nicole.  Nicole talked to me about her life back in Virginia Beach as I kept my eyes closed tight for the 15 minute ride to the top.

I missed seeing them tubing but got up there in time for lunch with them at a nice outdoor restaurant on the mountain top.  I had grilled salmon on a bed of greens topped with chutney sauce.  It was delicious.  They opted for the gourmet burgers with fresh fruit on the side.  My sister, my niece and their friend Alice joined us at the top for lunch as well.  I heard that the ride up and down was beautiful, I wouldn't know, my eyes were closed.  But it was postcard perfect up there.

That's them at the bottom.
Mike & Jen

Me, Mike, Lorens & Jen

Alice, Dawn & Aimee
Cousins Jen, Aimee & Mike
Me and my sister Dawn.

Below is the nice worker Nicole, on the left, who rode it up with me 
and my niece Aimee who rode it down with me in the cold rain.  
The rain was a welcome sight in Colorado with all the fires at that time.  
My teasing big sister Dawn was in the chair behind us saying things like, 
"Was that lightening?  Is that a bear?"
 I was saying, "Shut up Dawn.  Shut up Dawn, brat!"  

Later that afternoon we all went horseback riding through the mountains about 15 minutes away in Breckenridge, Colorado. The only part about the "trail ride through the mountains" I didn't like was, again, the mountains.  Don't get me wrong, mountains are beautiful.  I had never seen such natural beauty.  It just felt like a roller coaster ride all over again.

They gave me a good, gentle horse named Dakota.  They had green apples you could buy for your horse so we all did.  Before we got on our horses, we petted their noses as they ate their apples.  Dakota loved it and rubbed his face against me when he was done eating it.  I wanted to take him back to Chicago with me like a puppy.  I don't think my landlord would have approved.

Once we really started climbing up, up, up, the horses were sometimes slipping on loose rocks.  I was freaking out and wanted to jump off my horse and walk back down.  But we were 20 minutes up and into the mountain of our hour and a half ride and now I knew there actually were bears in Colorado.  I looked around.  There were small kids in our group.  I've seen the wildlife shows.  They always go for the little ones they can easily pick off.  The bears would surely eat them first.  Much safer than walking back by myself.  Yes, I would finish the ride with my family and the bear bait, I mean the small children from other families.

The guides were telling us all about the mountains around Breckenridge Colorado where we were.  I started listening and looking around me at the beauty of it all.  There were mountain streams we had to cross, trails through the trees, beautiful flowers and birds and the sun starting to set behind the mountains.  I had never seen such beautiful scenery firsthand.

There was an all you could eat dinner afterwards, set up western style with live music we all sang along too.  Again I was happy I pushed myself through my fear of heights and had another great adventure with my family.  I did cut my hand open, deep on a dead tree, but other than that, it was great.
My favorite picture

Our niece Aimee, Jen, Mike and my sister Dawn, 
who made this vacation possible.

Our nephew Tommy joined us at their condo too.  He went with some of my sisters friends on a camping trip/hike up a 14,000 foot mountain so we didn't get to spend enough time with him.  But when he was there there were billiard games at the lodge, long talks with his cousins and bonding time for all of them as well.  We usually only see each other at Christmas so this was a great family vacation.  We hope to save up for a  family vacation with them every summer.
Tommy & Michael  listening to Bill sing and play guitar
one evening in the condos.

Dinner Poolside.  
Lorens grilled beef kabobs, steaks and salmon.
Alice made a salad of cherry tomatoes, mozzarella and basil
in a tangy dressing.  I made Basmati rice.
(Clockwise: Mike, Jen, me, Lorens, Tommy, Dawn, Bill & Alice)
 Bill, Alice & Mike

Mike, Terri & Jen

One day, Mike, Terri and I hiked about 1-2 miles from our resort.  That was another great adventure, walking through the woods, along streams, requiring no drive down the mountain.  I loved it.  But I was thinking bears would love it here too.  So I asked Terri, "There's no chance of us seeing any bears is there?"  She thought I meant I was hoping to find a place for some cold "beers" and said "yeah, I'm sure there's some up ahead somewhere."  I was stammering, frozen, trying to remember how to form words and walk forward (which my legs refused to do after she said there's probably SOME bears up ahead, as in multiple bears).  Then she realized what I meant and said no "bears" up ahead, only "beers".  We were all laughing hysterically (mine was a hysterical laughter of relief).  

Terri trying to be taller than me.

We walked to a little lake that's an ice rink in the winter that you can paddle boat on in the summers.  We rented a paddle boat and bought bags of duck/fish food.  Every duck and goose on that lake followed us around.  A few even tried to jump on our boat.  The giant fish were jumping out of the water too trying to eat every bite.  There were little shops surrounding the lake that we went and explored afterwards too.  

Michael snapped this picture of a rainbow over our resort when we were on a hike after a sun shower.  It stretched from one mountain to the other with our resort in the middle.  You could see both sides of the rainbow.  This picture doesn't do it justice.  It was gorgeous. 
Minus the insane, steep roads, almost drowning, 
the bad cut on my hand and the possibility of bears,
I just have to be unconscious for the driving parts next time.
Wake me up on the mountain top, 
it's beautiful up there!

UPDATE:  So, when I got back to Chicago, I was uploading our family pictures to the Keystone Resorts Facebook page (3 of which were added into the resorts photos) and I see pictures of a bear out in front of the resort.  The date stamp says 2011 but the resort commented that they need to change the date stamp on their camera, this actually happened June 7, 2012 (3 weeks before we arrived there).  I told you there were friggin bears, I knew it.  I can't believe I was hiking in the woods and streams around the mountain where they live.  Next time I'm bringing a taser gun.  
The entrance to our resort
I walked down this sidewalk.  Never again.
 Then he ran around to the back of the resort.
I would never think a bear would be in a tree above my head.
See, this is why I love Chicago, only squirrels in our trees.
We keep our Bears confined to Soldier Field.

 They said he was tranquilized and moved
to a less populated part of the mountain.
Wait.....what? Another part of the same mountain the resort is on?
He wasn't relocated to, like, Alaska?
Did I mention?  Oh helllllll no.  
N.E.V.E.R.  A.G.A.I.N
(but it was a great vacation)

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