I haven’t done the empirical research to make it official, but I feel like I’ve been on more trips so far this calendar year than in any year past. The year’s not even over yet, and I have another getaway planned this week with another possible trip looming on the horizon for early December.
Most of the time, I plan my getaways well in advance, with a down-to-the-minute itinerary to squeeze every possible moment out of the trip. Last month, however, I called upon my inner whimsy and bought a plane ticket to fly to the other side of the country on about a week’s notice.
Usually my trips hinge around one big event, and that’s usually music-related. This time, the catalyst was that my friend and favorite musician, Levi Weaver, was doing a mini-tour that took him through Denver, Colorado on Friday night.
Aside from the fact that I am always up for any opportunity to see him play, I also happen to have not one, but TWO Denver-dwelling friends. I messaged my friend Mel, who I met through Levi and had never seen in person, to see if she’d be up for some company. I had checked flights to visit her on many occasions prior, but always found them to be far out of my price range. With a cheap flight available and Mel signed on, the trip was a go. The cherry on top came when I called another internet-based friend, Libby (who I had seen in person on one previous occasion), to tell her of my trip. I had expected her to be unavailable, because she travels a great deal for work, but to my delight, she was free to spend a whole day with me!
I flew out of Lynchburg at 6am on Thursday morning, having woken up at 4:30am after about three hours of sleep the night before. (I can never sleep well right before a trip.) I was equal parts exhaustion and excitement, and I balanced the two by pulling out my iPod and listening to an album of John Prine covers on the plane, while watching out the window as the sun began to light up the clouds.
My layover was in Atlanta, where I had this lovely view of the early morning sky:
Just a few more hours in the air got me to Denver before 11am (MST), and I was happy to end up with two extra hours in my day.
Mel picked me up at the airport and we found ourselves almost immediately engaged in some rather heavy conversation before trading it in for more lighthearted chatter. We spent the majority of the afternoon that way, playing board games and talking about some of the good things in life (like music and boys), and walking around her neighborhood.
Mel had a class Thursday night and I was worn out, so I stayed in, took a shower, and started getting relaxed for the evening while catching up on my RSS feed. I tend to have trouble sleeping when I’m not at home, so I took some Tylenol PM and I was totally into the sleepy zone.
About that time, Mel came home and said that she’d heard from Levi, and he was going on stage in Colorado Springs in about an hour, and if we left right then, we could probably make it just in time to see his set. We made a quick decision to go, so I traded in my PJs for something only mildly less casual and staggered to the car.
My eyelids were extremely heavy on the drive out, but I managed to stay awake and we made it to the show as Levi was playing “Good Medicine” to give his touring partner, Kenny Paul Harris, time to change a broken guitar string. After that, we heard the last several songs of Kenny’s set, and then Levi took the stage. The show was more than worth fighting sleep to see, and the art gallery owners agreed, as they invited Levi and Kenny back to play their big exhibit opening the following night.
I am amused by how this picture looks like the dinosaur is about to bite off Levi’s face:
After the show, Levi and Kenny followed Mel and I back to Denver. I’d like to say I was a very good passenger and stayed awake to keep Mel company, but I kept drifting off and I think I ultimately gave up that fight. I never sleep in the car, but I was just THAT tired, apparently. In fact, by the time we got back to Mel’s and got ready to fall asleep, I realized I had officially been awake for a full 24 hours.
As luck would have it, jet lag still had me awake the next morning before anyone else. Mel was not far behind, though, so we got up and slid out the door for breakfast, leaving the slumbering musicians behind. Mel introduced me to the Denver Biscuit Company, which had Diet Coke, for one (WOOHOO!), and served up a bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit roughly the size of my head. My early morning appetite is usually pretty stout, but I couldn’t eat even half of it. (Luckily, Kenny was happy to eat my leftovers, and Levi was grateful for the biscuits and gravy we brought back, too.)
We passed much of the morning (and into the afternoon) playing games, watching funny YouTube videos, and enjoying one another’s company. I typically cram so many activities into my travels that there is little time remaining to “waste” in such a way. But, the primary object of this trip was not the beautiful Colorado scenery, but the opportunity to spend precious time with friends. I am grateful that we had that in spades!
I did have an itch to get outside in the fresh air and sunshine, and it was a beautiful day for it. Mel lives an easy walking distance from the City Park, so that’s where we went. It was a great chance for me to test out my new camera (a birthday gift from my parents) by taking pictures of everything…and everyone!
Ever the kid at heart, it didn’t take long for Levi to go missing. We found him by looking up:
I wasn’t a big fan of him being in the tree (as I said I did not wish to be the one to explain it to his wife if he fell and broke his leg), but I am a fan of this fun picture I got of him on his way down. (He made it in one piece and everything.)
We walked on through the park and I found this quaint tree:
And this adorable dog who was too excited by my attention to stay back far enough for a proper picture:
After the park, we stopped for lunch and made our way back to Mel’s, where she cooked us an amazing dinner while we all sat around being lazy. (Thanks, Mel!) The guys did a little playing while I was content to watch. Kenny also played a cover of “Amanda,” the Don Williams song for which I was named. He has a sister named Amanda, and the moment we were introduced, he started singing the song. I don’t meet very many people who know it!
After dinner, Mel’s apartment became a music venue for Levi and Kenny to perform a House Show for several of Mel’s friends. It was an acoustic event, of course, but somehow we still managed to be interrupted by a neighbor who didn’t appreciate the boot-stomping and drum-beating emanating through the floor.
After the House Show, we piled into Kenny’s car to head back to Colorado Springs to play for the art gallery opening that night. Several of the people who had been to the show the night before came back out again – this time armed with favorite song requests. Still, the singer-songwriters on the corner stage were not the main event to many people who had turned out solely for the art that was hanging on the gallery walls. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the initially indifferent crowd slowly gravitate toward the stage, fall silent, and be swept up in song.
In fact, that is generally one of my favorite things about watching Levi play over the years. If I drop $40 on a concert ticket to go see a band I really like, I can generally expect to end up in the midst of people with the same appreciation that I have for the music. They have the albums, they know the songs, they sing along. There is definitely camaraderie in the concert-going experience that I value – in the words of Peyton Sawyer, “Nobody’s saying it, but we’re all feeling it: We have something to believe in again.” At Levi’s shows, though, it’s usually either that the crowd has come to see the headliner and he’s opening, or he’s playing a coffee shop or smaller venue where people are wandering in out of curiosity. Then, I am standing there in the middle of the room, one of the very few who already love the music and know all the words, and I get to witness the tide turn as the crowd slowly realizes this is an experience they don’t want to miss, and give over their entire focus to the stage.
Levi had some technical difficulties toward the end of his set, so he went unplugged to finish up from atop a chair. This is another signature Weaver move that I always enjoy.
After the show finished, everyone was still in the party mood, so we relocated to a bar down the alley, where Kenny and Levi indulged the room with a Riverdance-off. I’m not really sure who won, except for possibly the crowd who got to witness the spectacle.
The bar closed on us, so we were headed home, but had to stop back by the gallery to pack up the equipment that we left behind. We went to do that, and I’m not really sure how or why, but then, this happened:
I was all but asleep at this point, but Levi insisted I rejoin the dance floor (probably so I would not be able to continue documenting the event in pictures). The impromptu party was obviously a hit, as we even had some straight-from-the-frat-house-party-crashers who were promptly kicked out. Other than that, the highlight of the evening was when a dancing collision in my general vicinity soaked my leg and flip-flops in beer. Sticky situation, indeed.
Sometime around 4am, we finally called it a night and I was elected to drive us home. I told Levi to find me some music I could sing along to (which keeps me awake when driving), and he picked Derek Webb’s Mockingbird – an excellent choice. I stayed awake and sang along with Derek on the drive home while everyone else slept.
By the time we got back, I grabbed a shower and was ready to go to sleep by around 5, which gave me three precious hours to sleep before Saturday’s adventure. Miraculously, I woke up with my alarm and managed to get dressed and ready without waking up everyone else. I even styled my hair and put on makeup for the first time since arriving in Colorado. I must say, I enjoyed how well my low-maintenance sense of (or lack of) style fit in out there!
My dear friend Libby picked me up outside Mel’s place and laid out the plan for a full day of sight-seeing as we drove up into the mountains.
We first stopped on some land owned and operated by nuns, with a quaint chapel and a statue of Jesus up on the mountainside. This would be a good time to tell you the name of the place, but I cannot remember and Google is failing me. At any rate, the statue of Jesus was wayyyy up the mountain – you can see it faintly in the picture below.
We then proceeded to walk up an inordinate number of stairs to get to the top. Libby cautioned me to pay attention to my breathing as I would not be used to the thin air, particularly at such an elevation. I told her I was going to see Jesus one way or another! And I did!
Here we are atop the mountain (myself, Libby, her daughter Brianna, and the doggies too, of course)!
On our way back down, we walked past a group that was stopping at each landing to pray at the stations of the cross. It was a beautiful place and well worth the walk. I felt quite accomplished having hiked to a high elevation – and on three hours of sleep!
As we continued on our way up the mountain, we went through this tunnel. I got excited and remarked that I love tunnels, which was all the encouragement Libby needed to roll down the windows, honk the horn, and cheer. So juvenile, and when I say juvenile, I mean OH MY GOODNESS IT WAS SO MUCH FUN!
Libby was a great tour guide and pointed out all the sights along our way. For more “fun,” she drove me up something the locals call the “Oh My God Road.” You can see why in the picture below.
Yes, that is the side of a mountain. And a gravel road. And what you can’t see in the picture is how much we were sliding back and forth in the loose gravel (in an SUV, I might add). Can you imagine driving that in the winter? In the snow and ice? That would certainly give credence to the name.
Still, we made it up to Libby’s house in the high elevations. She showed me the view from her backyard:
From there, we traveled the Peak to Peak highway (which struck me as their version of the Blue Ridge Parkway here at home), and I savored every moment of the beautiful scenery and the chit-chatting with my friend. We rode the full length of the Peak to Peak as shown in the sign below – from Black Hawk to Estes Park.
Here are just a few of the pictures I took along the way.
Now for another place I cannot immediately name – this beautiful church we visited along our way. It was perfectly situated and the land around it was beautiful as well.
Shortly after, we stopped to have lunch at Libby’s favorite place, the Bald Pate Inn. (Look, I remember the important place names, and they had good food, man!) As the name suggests, it is an inn where you could stay for a lovely getaway. The inn and the attached restaurant are only open during certain times of the year. I imagine it could be quite difficult to get to during the winter.
The food was buffet style, but in an elegant sense – this was no Golden Corral. All the items served were fresh and local. They offered up an extensive salad bar, which was delicious, along with fresh baked breads, a cheese tray, fresh fruit, and two different homemade soups. I chose the potato soup, which was stellar. Everything I ate was perfect. We also ordered dessert, and I had the tastiest key lime pie I have ever had. Libby ordered the pecan pie, and it, too, was magnificent. I love pecans but don’t usually care for pecan pie, as it is too sweet and syrupy. Their pecan pie was heavy on the pecans (as it should be) and had the perfect balance of sweetness. Yum, yum, yum.
After our leisurely lunch, we explored the “Key Room” at the Bald Pate Inn. People from all over send keys to them as sort of a tradition, with accompanying notes, and they are all displayed here:
We sat for a while on the porch swing at the inn, looking out at the beautiful mountains and sharing stories. If we had done nothing else all day but that, we still would have had a wonderful time.
When we got to Estes Park, I learned that the state of Colorado had really gone all out when they learned I was making my trip. They couldn’t have had much notice, but still, I was honored by their gesture:
We shopped for a bit through Estes Park before making our way back across the mountains. The fire was still burning in Boulder while I was there (and I never saw the fire, but I did notice the haze on the horizon), so Libby took us back via an alternate route because some of the roads we had taken out to Estes Park had been closing down at night due to the hazard.
Ironically, our modified route would take us through a portion of Boulder on our way back to Denver. On the way, we stopped at this reservoir as the sun was setting.
Then, we continued winding our way down into Boulder.
This was my attempt to take a picture of the skyline behind us. This one turned out better than the one I took by sticking my arm out the window and trying to take a picture over the roof of the car.
It was completely dark by the time Libby delivered me back to Mel’s. We marveled at how our day had flown by and bid farewell – but not before hearing Libby say she’d have to come visit me in Virginia sometime! (I am holding you to that, my friend!)
Mel and I were both asleep well before midnight on Saturday, as we both had some Zs to catch up on. We planned a very relaxing day for Sunday, as Mel had been invited to a breakfast pot-luck Sunday morning, to be followed by a Harry Potter marathon.
Mel’s friends put together a lovely breakfast and made me feel quite welcome. Frankly, if you’re going to feed me breakfast and watch Harry Potter with me, I will already be feeling pretty comfortable, but I genuinely had a lot of fun spending the morning with them.
Mel and I bowed out after the first movie to go to the grocery store so Mel could get some ingredients for dinner. She invited everyone over for pot roast after church. Also, since Mel had to be at church early to set up, I seized the opportunity to walk around the Capitol area and snap some pictures.
This church was my favorite find:
And here is the Capitol building:
There was some kind of event happening on the downtown mall, so I walked over to explore that. Plus, I saw something that looked like a fair, which made me think funnel cake, so it was definitely worth a look. However, when I got over there, the lawn was jam-packed with people and my fear of crowds kicked in and sent me running for the nearest exit. I got no funnel cake, and still had no idea what was going on.
From there, I walked back up towards the church where Mel’s church met. (That sounds redundant, but what I am saying is that Mel’s church rents another church’s building, and that’s why they meet on Sunday nights only.)
I enjoyed the service and seeing the same group from the earlier Harry Potter marathon. Some of the folks came back to Mel’s afterwards for dinner, which was as delicious as every other meal Mel prepared while I was there!
Monday morning came around so soon, and it was time for me to make my way back to the east coast. First, Mel allowed me to treat her to breakfast at her favorite spot, a place called Snooze, which is known for their pineapple upside down pancakes. They usually have a very long wait, but being a Monday morning after most people had gone to work, we were able to walk right in!
Mel ordered a pancake trio (pineapple upside down pancake, sweet potato pancake, and a chocolate chip pancake) while I ordered eggs, bacon, and potatoes. We each ate about half of our plates and then switched. Here’s Mel with her pancakes before we did too much damage.
Mel got me back to the airport with plenty of time to spare and my flights went as smoothly going home as they had on the way out. I begrudgingly gave back the two hours I had borrowed on the way out to Denver on Thursday, and spent the next week living on Mountain time. Actually, I think my body was still living on indie-musician time, because my sleeping schedule was off by way more than two hours. Still, it was all worth it for a trip I will remember for a lifetime. I am so grateful to have finally met Mel face-to-face. She was a wonderful host in every way, and more than that, she has the kind of heart and spirit that makes me feel fortunate to know her. Better still, I pretty much ate all of her Horchata ice cream, and she’s still nice to me. I am hoping that the pint of peach ice cream I was supposed to eat, but left behind, helped fill the void. Still, I wonder how much it would cost to get a gallon of that stuff shipped over here, packed in dry ice?