Friday, July 21, 2017

colorado rocky mountain high - we've seen it rain and fire in the sky

I'm writing this post as we drive through central Montana en route to Glacier National Park. Our rented SUV has WiFi, which is quite possibly one of the coolest things I've ever experienced.  While we don't always have reception, and our cell phone coverage has been dismal, at this moment, I have full 4G bars and can update my blog while we're driving.  Technology wonders will never cease to amaze me! 

Today marks day 11 of our 28 day adventure, and we are really having a great time.  I've tried to update various photos and captions to my Twitter account, and Instagram - which I'm still trying to figure out.  But I've provided hyperlinks to the accounts for my mom ... and anyone else so inclined to follow along! :) 

Here are some of the pictures and commentary of our trip thus far: 

We departed our house at 3:15 AM on Tuesday, July 11.  Remarkably, all of our luggage fit in to our minivan for our trip to the airport, once we added our Yakima skycap - and we were able to check it, in - uneventfully, and free of any additional baggage charge.  


Once we'd all made it through security and boarded the flight, I was happily surprised when Charlie informed me we were all in one row, with three seats on one side, and three seats on the other of the plane. When I first booked the flight, I had recalled that we were not all together on our trip to Denver. 

So while we were awaiting take-off, I was approached by a young man who informed me that I was sitting in his seat.  Charlie - who had been holding all of our boarding passes - pulled mine out of the bundle and said, "Oh, I thought we were all in the same row.  Jen, it looks like you've been upgraded and are sitting in first class - row 1A. Oops."  

Since it was only 5:00 AM, I didn't give it much thought as I stood up and smiled at my children, while grabbing my bags to head up to the front of the plane - and the last bit of creature comforts that awaited me for the next month.  But before I could exit my row - Charlie said to the young man, "Actually, why don't you take that seat in first class? That way our whole family can stay together." 

Wait. What? Am I dreaming? Did I get bumped up to first class and my husband just gave it away - snap, like that?  As I'm standing in my row, trying to grasp reality, the woman in the row behind caught my attention as she said, "Oh, no, no, no … Mama … you take that seat and you go sit up there in first class and drink a mimosa.  Go - Go - RIGHT NOW. Don't you even think twice about it!"

But by that point, the guilt of leaving my children - and my husband - in the back of the plane, while I sat up at the front in my oversized seat with my warm towel, blanket and pillow, had taken hold and I nodded at the young man - who couldn't have been more than 25, and said, "That's fine. Go ahead. Enjoy it." 

As he gasped, "No way! Are you serious?! Sweet!" he literally skipped to the front of the plane before I could change my mind.  I settled in next to my girls who both gave me a scowl and said, "Why didn't you let ME sit up there?!" And I, in turn, looked to Charlie and gave him a scowl, to which he replied, "What? You wouldn't want to be at the front without us … would you?" 

Um…?  I think the correct response here is no?

Two and half hours later, we landed in Denver, we picked up our rented GMC 8-passenger Yukon,  loaded it with all of our gear, leaving not an inch of space to spare - and took off for Rocky Mountain National Park.  Here are the kids, fitting snuggly and brimming with excitement for our adventure. 


And here they are 30 minutes later, when the exhaustion of being up at 2:45 AM caught up to them.  (William had actually been asleep at woke up seconds before I snapped this photo. I love the expression on his sweet face...) 


As night began to fall, so too did the temperature and the raindrops.  We bundled up in our warmest clothes and Charlie introduced the kids to his favorite childhood game, Dungeons & Dragons - before everyone fell asleep by 8:15 PM.  


The next morning, we were up - ate a breakfast of pancakes - and broke down camp in the drizzling rain.  In the background, that brown box? It's our bear box - which we have become very proficient at using at each campsite.  



Before we embarked on our day of driving around Rocky Mountain National Park and heading to our next destination, we stretched and did yoga - including a lot of "OMMMMMS!" while we breathed in the luscious pine-scented air. 


We love Colorado! 





It was a GLORIOUS day … and a perfect way for us to spend the 200th birthday of the other Henry David (Thoreau who was born on July 12, 1817).  


As Thoreau so famously wrote in 1851, "In wildness is the preservation of the world" and we couldn't agree more.  

Sunday, July 09, 2017

the amazing summer trip of 2017

For this next blog post, I'd planned to write about Charlie's 50th birthday celebration this past November, but I'm really limited on time, because in two days - our family is taking off on our mega summer 2017 trip.  It would seem that Charlie and I (but mostly me) have been consumed by an insatiable travel bug that is gnawing to see and do as much as we possibly can with our children because TICK TOCK they are growing up so fast and in six years, the triplets will be graduating from high school and moving away to college, and then jobs - married - children - blink - grandchildren - blink, blink - and I'm on a walker with blue hair.

The fact my littlest love, Henry, has now been on this earth for a full decade as of this past week, just reaffirms that time goes by incredibly quick and as Ferris Bueller so wisely said thirty-one years ago, (31-years ago?!) "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." 


Shown above, Mr. Square Root of 100.

Our house these days is a buzz because what started as a tiny "what-if" idea has ballooned in to what can only be called the most awesome amazing trip, that will have us criss-crossing some of the most spectacular National Parks in North America over the next four weeks.  Here's how we're hoping it will all happen: 

After much back and forth on this, do we drive - do we take a train - do we take a plane?  We finally decided that we'll fly from Houston to Denver this coming Tuesday.  Wheels up at 5:30 AM, which means we need to be at the airport, by no later than 4:00 AM so we can check in our huge amounts of gear that we'll need on this trip.  Huge amounts of gear … because that's right:  WE'RE CAMPING THE ENTIRE TIME.   

Honestly, trying to get the kids to bed at a decent hour on Monday, so I can wake them up at 3:00 AM on Tuesday, scares me a little bit more. 

Once we land in Denver, we'll be spending a few nights at Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.  From there, we will drive and spend a few more nights at Dinosaur National Monument which is on the Colorado / Utah border.    Unlike last year, when we just winged it and didn't make any reservations - this year, we have reservations (nearly) every leg of our trip.  Except in those cases where campsites are only available on a first-come first-serve basis. That's when we have a back-up plan to stay in hotels outside the parks.  Or, sleep in the car.  Whatever works out.

In my mind's eye - I see us having no trouble.  But I also see me being able to sleep peacefully in a tent for 28 nights, so I think this means I'm an optimist?

We will then drive north to Wyoming and the Grand Tetons National Park, where we will camp for several nights … before we drive further north to Yellowstone National Park - and camp for several more.   Then it is on to Glacier National Park in Montana where we'll be camping. Yet again.  

Now I interrupt this recitation of our itinerary to interject that we will be in the middle of bear country, much to Elizabeth's chagrin.  From the moment our daughter heard that this plan was coming to fruition, she was immediately alarmed about the Bear Factor.  I don't even know how she knew that we were heading in to bear country - but she seemed highly educated on the habitat of the Black Bear and Grizzly populations; enough to know we'd be smack-dab in the middle of it.  I think she's been watching too many PBS specials, and reading far too many National Geographic.

But however it is that she knew about it, it got to the point that every time I'd open my computer, I'd see that she had been searching Google for ways to repel bears.  I was finding the whole thing quite amusing, and would give her my suggestions, to which she informed me: "Mom, rubbing honey behind your ears, using a salmon-scented shampoo, and blueberry deodorant are only the things to do, IF YOU WANT TO BE EATEN."  

During dinner one night, as she sat nervously chewing a carrot, she asked if she could just spray bear repellent all over herself to keep them away? And those bear lockers that the campsites are purported to have; can she, herself - along with bunny - fit in one at night to sleep??  After hearing from scores of people who have echoed Elizabeth's grave concern and have sternly inquired how we plan to keep ourselves safe from bears, I have since read up on bear safety, and have invested in bear bells, bear bags, and will be purchasing bear repellent when we land in Colorado.

I'd actually purchased several cans of it last week, but it turns out, you cannot bring bear repellent on a commercial airplane.  Charlie suggested I check - moments after I'd clicked "order" on Amazon; and was quite glad that I realized my faux pas and was able to cancel the order before it shipped. Alas, I've promised Elizabeth our first stop on this trip, will involve purchasing bear spray.

After several days in Montana, we will be driving north to Canada and visiting Lake Louise and Banff National Park.  We'll be spending - you guessed it - several days there, before driving further north to Jasper National Park.  After a few days in the Canadian Rockies, we will begin our drive back south - in to Idaho, through Coeur d'Alene, and along the western side of the Bitterroot Mountains.  All the way south to Salt Lake City, Utah we will drive - and then further south to Moab and Arches National Park.  After a few days in the Beehive state, we will head east back to Colorado, where we will depart from Denver … at 6:00 AM; four weeks to the day after our journey began.  

Four weeks we decided was the appropriate time for this trip for a multitude of reasons, including wanting to have sufficient time to enjoy each of the parks.  Also, we have five weeks of summer remaining, and we could either send our children to camp - or take them camping, and we thought the latter sounded much more pleasing.  Also (also), after a quasi-cost benefit analysis, I realized that it would actually cost us slightly less to take the children on this trip - then it would be to stay at home and put them in programs each day.  We then learned that the cost for renting a car was actually the same if you rented it for 3 versus 4 weeks. And, our flights are at this crazy early hour, because airfare was only $200 RT per person if you depart while 90% of the local population is still asleep.

To add to the cost savings awesomeness, our National Park pass from last year, doesn't expire until the end of August ... and we'll be able to enter all of the Canadian National Parks free of charge because they are celebrating their 150th anniversary.  How about that, eh??  Happy Anniversary, Canada! 

I love a bargain! 

Unless, of course the camping piece of this goes belly-up and we wind up sleeping in hotels for the next month - and then any potential cost savings will have vanished like the morning fog.

Here's a map of our route:

Screen Shot 2017-07-08 at 11.14.18 PM

And here is a partial shot of the bags we'll be taking.  Our kitchen (camp stove, utensils, pots and pans) is in the red plastic foot locker, the tent is in the gray bag, our sleeping bags and pads are in the two yellow bags; and all of our camping chairs and additional supplies are in the red bag. For whatever reason I'm not debating, we are allowed two check-on luggages per person.  That works out to 12 bags.  So I'm hopeful that this haul will qualify - or, won't cost us a small fortune to ship.


Not shown, are the other six backpacks that hold our clothes, which are in the process of being packed (and then re-packed), that we'll be carrying on the plane.

Note to any potential burglars: While we are gone, we will have contractors at our house, nearly every day, doing some work that we'd held off on completing since we've moved in.  So an added bonus to all of this, is that we won't be living in a construction zone for a month.  Although some might argue, that's better than living in a tent for a month. (I'll let you know when we return.)

Until then: may God bless us and keep us safe and sane… and away from any wildlife that might be so inclined to devour us.