Life in a Cold Climate

The recent polar vortex which has hit the US and Canada recently has made me feel fortunate to already live in a place where we are in a constant polar vortex. But, I thought I would share some of my thoughts and experiences for anyone out there who needs to hear it.

Food and supplies

Since moving back to North Park, there are a few things that I am having to retrain my brain on. Unlike living in a city of 100,000 people, in the town of Walden, which hits a high water mark of about 570 (just going to spitball that estimate) and is situated at 8100ft in elevation, sixty miles from the nearest town with services…planning is very important.

For one thing, you need to be aware of your food stores. If you don’t have something in your cabinets you need, either you need to improvise, or just do without it. We live in what is called a “food desert” which means that two grocery stores, one of which is a Family Dollar, mean that you don’t have a lot of what you will be looking for unless you drive an hour to the next nearest store.

This is why it is critical that you make lists. Go through your cabinets, see what you have, plan according to what you have, what you will need for your weekly (bi-weekly, or monthly) menu, and go from there. Here you could invest in GameStop stock with the price of milk and cheese, if they have any. Dry goods keep a long time, and though the nutritional value of a can of greenbeans is probably higher from eating the can itself, canned and frozen veggies and fruits can be your friend.

Road conditions

Sometimes the roads are rough, or closed. You need to plan and prepare for that too. Avalanches might cause road closures for days on end, so you have to be flexible and creative at times when it comes to choosing your route. Plows don’t always run 24/7, and high winds can shut a road down with drifts in a matter of hours.

Always make sure you have good all-weather tires, chains, or studded snowtires (in the winter months). Some years, every month is a potential winter month. In 2019, we got a foot of wet, icy snow on the pass on June 23. I remember this date because my son and I were shivering in a tent for a lot of it during a Cub Scout camp trip. At least there weren’t any mosquitoes.

Freezing pipes

Since the South has been shut down, most of it from icy highways, fallen electrical lines, and freezing pipes, here is a pro tip of someone who grew up in a cold climate for those of you who break out the Carharts when you can see your breath. Leave your taps open just a trickle. The continuous flow of water from your freshwater supply and out to your sewer will prevent your pipes from freezing.

When I was a kid, you could always tell whose pipes had frozen because the Town would have to dig up their street, pile old tires onto the water pipes, and burn them to thaw them out. Otherwise, the pipes running to that house might be frozen until the end of May. You only do this ONCE. You won’t need a better reminder.

Don’t forget the tub

You can also run a small electrical heater underneath the cabinets to make sure the lines stay warm enough, though this can get expensive. The internal temp of your house should still be fine even if it drops into the 40s. Just let the taps run a little. The best way to gauge this is to let the cold water valve run to a thin, steady stream and tighten it down until the stream juuuuuust becomes drops.

Being Prepared

Keep your phone batteries charged, your fuel tanks in your cars topped off, and put extra blankets in your car. I usually pack snacks for calories in the event of a breakdown or if I need to walk a few miles to get help. Your body is pretty good at keeping itself warm if you can fuel your internal furnace.

It might be a good idea to carry a bag of cat litter in your trunk. The added weight will give you traction and the litter itself can be used to help you stop spinning on an icy patch of road. When it’s no longer a frictionless nightmare world, use the litter for your cat, oil spots in the driveway, or save it for next time.

Be there to help

This is a good time to help others out. Check on neighbors. Pool your resources. Keep tabs on friends and family who might not be so lucky. Limit your driving, and slow…the hell…down when navigating roads and highways.

This stuff used to be basic knowledge when I was a kid. Hell, for most of Colorado it was, but now with so many people moving in from warmer climates, they don’t understand that we are pretty much at the mercy of the weather…all year long.

I’ve been pretty lucky this year. In spite of our elevation and our isolation, Walden was at 43 degrees F. when the Colorado Front Range was at -15. Mountains make for some really wild weather changes, and forecasts don’t mean much sometimes. But if you use your wits, plan ahead, and come prepared, you’ll pull through it okay.

When in doubt, stay inside and take a nap.

New Dog New Tricks

A friend of mine used to joke about how the men she dated had reached the end of the line the moment they adopted a Labrador Retriever. She even used to say, “Once they get a yellow lab, it’s all over. They’ve given up.”

In early January, my aunt contacted me about a stray dog her son had found at a notorious dog dump in central Washington where she lives. The pup had been living with her for nearly a month, a four month old yellow lab they had been calling “Bean Biscuit.” She was purported to be housebroken, great with kids, other dogs, and even cats. She was one of eight lab puppies found at this empty field and rather than have a fifth dog at home, she wanted to know if I wanted to adopt her.

I’ve been wanting a dog for a long time, but at the place where I had been living, even though it had a good yard and easy access, my least forbade pets of any kind. Not even a parakeet or a goldfish was allowed. During the pandemic lockdown, it got very lonely at times and I always said if I was going to move I would get a dog when I could. Due to the lockdowns, animal shelters and humane societies felt the impact of this imposed solitude as well. There were two month long waiting lists for dogs at the pound, and most of those are some kind of sketchy pitbull mix anyway. I’ve adopted dogs from shelters before and honestly, there is a part of me that never fully trusts them. Even a dog I adopted once as a six week old puppy displayed signs of food aggression. She became the source of vet bills and emergency room visits due to her aggressive nature. An American Bulldog mix, she was probably better suited to a less chaotic environment without kids or other dogs to compete with. The short time she was in the pound shouldn’t have impacted her behavior, but she was very aggressive and not a mistake I wanted to repeat.

My aunt had fostered this yellow lab for nearly a month and could vouch for her. So, my mom and I decided to take a road trip to meet her halfway in Burley, ID. A 1,000 mile round trip to pick up a lab puppy who needed a forever home.

We set out on a Friday morning with clear blue skies and dry roads, heading North to Wyoming just a half hour out of town. On the drive, bald eagles perched on dormant cottonwoods on the side of the road. The weather got chillier as we headed into Wyoming, stopping off in Rawlins for fuel and breakfast. In the Walmart parking lot, we witnessed a raven eating a tomato that had fallen out of somebody’s bag.

Ravens like tomatoes

My mom and I can jabber for hours about just about anything, so the time and miles flew past as we cruised West down I-80. At some point I decided to take a detour North to see Jackson Hole, which I have never visited. I had seen the Tetons only once, when I was around my son’s age, and had always wanted to see them again. We took the long way around to get to Idaho and watched the flat, arid landscape of the I-80 corridor rise to become long, icy peaked mountain ranges, lush pine forests, and winding canyons. We hit the town of Pinedale and the passes on the way to Jackson Hole rivaled anything in Colorado. It was a side of Wyoming I had never seen before and some of the most beautiful country I’ve driven through.

Jackson Hole was touristy, and yet not as refined or congested as a town such as Aspen. It still had a hint of a western mountain town to it in spite of all the Lexuses and hybrids ghosting along the icy roads with that electric whine to announce their arrival. I was impressed with the Albertsons and its selection of produce and $20 per pound dry aged New York Strip steaks. Without a cooler in the car, we had to pass up on a deal like that and instead my mom wanted Chinese food for dinner.

Not a good choice. It was bland, and due to Covid restrictions, the restaurant was empty and the service lacking. This was a far cry from my experience in Glenwood Springs at an Indian restaurant that was grateful to get the customers in through the door and spared nothing when it came to hospitality. Maybe Jackson just had more of a captive audience. The service was as bland as the food. We wondered if we didn’t have covid because the food was tasteless.

We stopped briefly to see the Tetons and duly impressed, we were off again fighting the traffic of Jackson Hole.

The Grand Tetons

We wound our way to Idaho, following the Snake River and before the sun fell behind the mountains, we could see the steam rising off the river where hot springs oozed into the icy waters. By the time we reached Idaho Falls it was dark and though a fresh snow had fallen, it was not as cold. The air was heavy with humidity, suggesting the weather was coming straight over from the Pacific Northwest instead of the arctic breath of Wyoming and Montana.

We rolled into Burley and the hotel was alive with the sounds of live music playing from the bar. The pup was still unsure of me and barked at our approach. After a bit, she warmed up to me and settled down in the room.

Who abandons a face like this?!

The town seemed to be in revolt against Covid regulations, since when we went to dinner with my aunt, we were ushered into a loud bar with a full menu and over a hundred people in close quarters without masks. The young ladies of Burley were dressed up in their buckle bunny uniforms, tight fitting jeans, cowgirl hats, and off the shoulder sweaters. The men puffed out their chests and fronted each other like a strange mating dance of sage grouses to fight for the girls’ affection. We ate burgers and French dips. Drank whiskey, margaritas, and listened to the sound of live music in the next section of the bar over the din of people that seemed extracted from another time, before all of this insanity with the pandemic.

Low-key creeping the bar scene

Across the country, people were storming the Capitol building. One of the ladies at the bar said so many people were out on the town because they figured to hell with it. The Capitol was being stormed, so why not?

Spoiler alert, we didn’t get the ‘rona.

In the middle of the night, Penny, my new addition to the family, a four month old yellow lab, threw up on me as I tried to sleep. A few failed attempts to let her outside and a screaming baby in the adjacent room reminded me of the exhaustion of having a new baby in the house.

We ate breakfast with my aunt and uncle and headed out early the next morning. The flat roads of Idaho interstates became the flat roads of Utah as we approached Ogden and the Salt Lake. We stopped in Salt Lake for chew toys, food, and Dutch Bros. coffee. On the way out, we stopped at an In-N-Out burger and for the next few days, no other burger could compare.

Penny slept soundly most of the drive as we pushed on towards Colorado again. We rolled into town at nearly 10pm, a total of 24 hours of driving and 1,000 miles traveled over the last two days.

Mountains in Northwest Wyoming look pretty much like home.

Over the last couple weeks, my son and I have fallen in love with Penny. Even my dad, who couldn’t understand why we would drive so far for a stray dog has warmed up to her–and almost predictably, he has become one of her favorite people.

She is a smaller dog and might not get much bigger. Her fur is as soft as a cloud. She is smart, probably the smartest dog I’ve ever had. She drags my coat off the hook when she tells me it’s time to go for a walk. She carries her own leash when I’m not walking fast enough for her. She carries my son’s stuffed animals around the house and so far has only ruined one of them. She can play fetch for hours and seems to love the cold climate.

On cold nights I sit and write in my office and hear the sound of a snoring puppy in her dog bed, just close enough to reach down and scratch her neck when I want. I don’t know about giving up like that friend of mine believed, but as my son often says “We are a complete family now!” There is just something about having a dog that brings us together. On the weeks he is away, the house feels less empty. On the weeks he is here and I am busy with writing, he has a buddy to keep him company. And even though sometimes she gets into trouble, it’s nice to share the place with her. She goes with me most places now and as she figures us out, we are figuring her out too.

Always mind the ears.

New Beginnings

For nearly the last year, keeping this site going has met with many challenges. Like most of us, getting out more has been almost a relic of the past, what with lockdowns, social distancing, and many changes. Maybe that is why it is even more important to push ourselves and our envelopes. Not just for our personal enjoyment, but our sanity as well.

I never realized how difficult trying to maintain a travel blog was when most of the places you could go or see are either closed or so limited that you might as well just throw up your hands and try it some other time. Many of us, myself included, have become more withdrawn. There was a time where the idea of getting a haircut was nearly impossible. People have retreated to Zoom meetings and virtual interractions.

I also went to ground for a while. My life has hit a lot of snags over the last year. I’ve experienced the end of a relationship and canceling the plans we had made to travel, just as the lockdowns were beginning. My job of 18 years at a university ended, just in time for everyone else to be losing their jobs, which has made me focus on writing full-time as a way to support myself and my family.

As prospects in the Colorado Front Range have looked bleak, especially with an expected recession due to changes in the Presidency and how executive orders will affect the oil and gas industry, everything seems a little precarious right now. My landlady began the process of selling the house out from under me too. So, I decided to move back home to where I grew up.

The view outside my front door.

I am living in my grandparents’ old house now, or a section of it anyway, that has been vacant for a number of years. I am making renovations as I go and hope to share some of the progress I have made here. This house has been in my family for over 80 years. Six generations of my family have lived here. The building itself started out as a dance hall in 1913 and later evolved into a bowling alley, then a storefront for my family’s trucking business in the 1940s. It’s a weird old building, featuring a dock for freight, and some other quirky details. The old trucking office will serve as my writing office and that is where I am writing these words right now.

My new office

The old place has tongue and groove hardwood floors throughout. Thick walls of concrete and steel (which made it a real pain to drill through to install my WiFi), and so much family history. For the last month, I’ve been making the place my own and updating things as I can.

My son’s new room

The town itself is small, with a population of only about 700 people. At 8100ft above sea level, the air is thin and takes some getting used to, but the views are amazing. Surrounded on all sides by mountains, only three roads come in to town and the nearest 7-11 is 60 miles away. Traffic is almost non-existent. So much that the first few nights here, it was hard to sleep with the silence. The white noise of the city was gone. No ambulances at 3am, no highway traffic, no trains blasting their horns at every intersection. Just the ticking of the clock on the wall and the hum of the furnace fan.

Main Street in the middle of the day

A few weeks into being here, I decided it was time to get a dog. I’ve lived without a dog for the last six years. My lease had a strict no pets allowed policy, which meant I couldn’t even have a fish tank. With the lockdowns, the option of getting out and seeing new places became limited and so I decided as soon as I could, I was going to get a furry traveling companion.

Who’s a good girl?

I’ll detail that trip in a future installment!

For now, I am starting over again, doing what I can to meet the challenges of this “New Normal” a phrase I dislike intensely. I don’t miss the city and feel like at this time in my life moving back home was an upgrade. Over 20 years in the Front Range was wearing on me and I consider this an opportunity to make my life and the life of my son when he is with me, much better than it had been before.

So maybe it’s possible to get out more even when you are on lockdown. I’m still pushing my envelopes, especially when it comes to figuring out writing full-time, house renovation, and reconnecting with family after being away for over 20 years. It’s an adventure to say the least!

Back in the Saddle

Mondays are usually pretty hard, even when the world hasn’t been turned on its ear. Most Mondays start off with getting up early to either pick my son up or drop him off for the week with his mom. Then somehow I find my way back to bed for a couple hours to make up for the sleep I missed the night before.

This Monday was going to be different. The plan was to drop off my son, get some coffee, and then drive up to Dillon, CO to ride my bike around the perimeter of Lake Dillon on some of the best paved bike paths in the state. Well, that was the plan. Even with half of a medium Americano in my system, I decided to lie down for twenty minutes. I woke up three hours later. On my new schedule of sleep and writing during these hot summer months, this was usual, but not for my plans to get off my butt and hit the trails on my bike.

For the next couple of hours, I waffled about what to do, and finally at 2pm, I decided there would still be plenty of light left for the trip. I loaded up my bike, plenty of water, and a modest snack before driving up to Dillon, a town which has captured the imaginations of people for decades. You see, the history of Dillon is fairly recent. It was once a prospecting town, until the City of Denver needed more drinking water (and water to blast onto Denver lawns to keep them green), so the town was moved and the ruins of it were flooded. The town now boasts a marina at 9,000ft above sea level, seven different nearby ski resorts to choose from in the winter months, and during the summertime all the things you would expect from a Colorado mountain town for outdoor entertainment. Boating, hiking, backpacking, biking, and drinking craft beers.

Riding again

For the last few weeks, my son and I have been loading the bikes on the back of my Jeep and hitting the bike paths of Ft. Collins. The city has a network of beautifully kept trails that run through some beautiful neighborhoods. These paths are completely set apart from automobile traffic and riding them is like entering a secret world. The miles just melt away as you pedal adjacent to places you’ve stopped, but now you have this surreal shortcut that takes you behind the scenes and changes your perspective.

Like a secret world, Ft. Collins. Spring Creek Trail

Last week, we did two bike rides. A ten miler on the Spring Creek Trail and a six miler on the Poudre River Trail. He has a single speed BMX bike and I have my $10 mountain bike I got at a police auction a few years ago. Since this whole pandemic, our opportunities to get outside and enjoy the outdoors have been limited. We’ve put on some weight, and our health isn’t what it was even a year ago. Say what you will about masks/no masks, the best way to fighting this virus is having a healthy immune system, and that means exercise, eating right, and reducing stress.

Poudre River Trail, Ft. Collins
Spring Creek Trail, Ft. Collins

On the 10-miler, we really pushed the limits of our endurance, and at the end of it, we were happy, if not worn out. The butt callouses you need for longer bike rides had not been formed, and sad to say by the six mile trip, they still hadn’t. But both were easy flat rides. The ten miler was an exercise in accomplishment. The six miler ended with my son playing in the Poudre river, excited about maybe taking a tubing trip sometime this summer.

Monday plans

After dropping him off on Monday, I knew the rest of my day would be shot with missing him. Mondays are usually a waste, so I decided that I could push my own limits. Paved bike trails were a lot easier than I remember them being from when I was a kid doing 25 mile bike hikes as a Boy Scout. My former girlfriend and I used to talk about hitting the Dillon trail together one day, so I figured what the hell? Why let a detail like being single again stop me?

Dillon Marina

I arrived in Dillon at around 4pm and started the Dillon Lake trail at the Marina, taking the clockwise route. The first few miles were pretty easy, with the exception of not being able to keep track of the bike path very easily as it wound through the edge of town. Soon enough, I was on the path to Summit Cove. Beyond that just a few miles was the town of Keystone. The reviews of the path warned about Swan Mountain Rd. The first leg of the 2 mile climb which gives you an altitude gain of about 900ft. according to some sources.

Little did I know…

It was disheartening to be passed by 70 year old grandmas on E-Bikes or middle-aged riders in their neoprene body condom bike outfits and $6,000 road bikes. My $10 is light, but it weighs as much as you can expect from a $10 bike. Which at one point felt like it had been constructed from the metal extracted from the heart of a dead star. My clothes are cargo shorts and a t-shirt, along with my Osprey Daylite pack and two quarts of water. I wound up walking the majority of Swan Mt. Rd. That little hill tried to kill me, I thought as I sat on the side of the road at nearly 10,000 feet above sea level, the carbs of my lunch of pasta salad long gone, now being replenished by a mealy apple I had brought with me and the remainder of my bottle of bathwater temp water. By my estimate, I had only 12 more miles to go.

Independence Mountain or Keystone. Who the hell knows? I’m dying.

I pushed my bike up to Sapphire Point, where a bride to be was having her pictures taken. Her family milled around as families do on Monday evening weddings in their jeans and t-shirts. My efforts of pushing Frankenbike up the hill were rewarded in a terrifying descent down the back half of Swan Rd, where bikes have to share the county road with cars as you wind down the mountain to Frisco. Hitting speeds of probably around 40 MPH, I had to lay on my brakes for a lot of the ride down with the image of my bike dismantling itself at speed like a Buster Keaton gag, and my health insurance a distance memory. What had taken an hour to climb took about three minutes on the downhill side.

I pushed on with about 12 miles left of the trek and my legs already feeling like they were packed with lead weights. Continual motion, pumping those legs up and down got me through the miles. With around 8 miles left, my heart started beating irregularly; the telltale sign of a panic attack. It had been a while since I had one of those. I kept going, up and down little hills, along the flank of Lake Dillon, pushing past more marinas, beaches, and then the Dillon Dam road. With the Amphitheatre in sight, I dismounted and pushed my bike back to my Jeep, passing the Arapahoe Cafe on the way.

Destination in sight, Dillon, CO

End of the trail

I grabbed my mask from my backpack and headed back down the hill. I could already taste the cold beer and burger on my tongue. I would be eating alone, but that is the way these trips go sometimes. At nearly 45 years old, I have a hard time finding people my own age who want to do trips like this or are even physically able to do it. I was feeling like the latter at this moment, unfortunately. All that bike pushing was sobering, especially when the Ft. Collins bike paths had lulled me into a false sense of security. I wondered how the 50+ year olds were able to cruise up that damned mountain, while I thought I was going to drop over more than a few times. Equipment probably had a lot to do with it, as well as being acclimitized to being at elevation. I had doubled my personal altitude for a late-afternoon bike ride.

I watched the sun set as I drank my Stem Cider and devoured my Bison Burger. I headed back home shortly after, feeling gassed from my ride and ready for a nap from the food. By the time I got home at about 10:30pm, I was exhausted. My mind hadn’t gone to the usual places that it does on Monday, and I was able to push my limits. That is, after all, the only way you are going to figure out just how far you can go, or how far you have come.

Mondays are usually a waste because of overthinking, but when I could only think of pushing on ahead, I didn’t have a lot of headspace to dedicate to that bad habit. I just had to keep going. I lived through it. And I’m better for it.

Am I going to be a competitive bicyclist? No. But its a good tool to have in your toolbox when you want to spend an afternoon doing something that keeps you active and challenges your brain and your body. I am a little more leary of reviews online that talk about how easy a trek like this is, however.

Where is this place?

If you are interested in the trek yourself, I recommend taking the path I did. The downhill side of Swan Mt. shares traffic with cars, which you will not want to do on an uphill climb for miles and miles. It’s also a little closer to the beginning of the trip, so you will still have energy to make that climb when starting from Dillon Marina.

Screen Cap from Google Maps. Dillon, CO

Surrender Under Protest if you Must

On this site, I try to be as apolitical as possible, but even though this post might have worked fine on my other site, I felt like it might have a home here as well. This site is, after all, about finding your place in the world, getting comfortable in your own skin, and meeting the challenges of every day life as you push yourself to experience more.

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine invited me to a protest/celebration of life for a Colorado victim of police brutality, Elijah McClain. He was an introverted kid walking by himself on the way home from the store, and was killed by police because he “fit the description” of someone who was “being suspicious.” His killers got a slap on the wrist. Of course people are angry. Anger can be a divisive emotion, or it can be a unifying one.

In the USA, we have seen our share of division, from the Loyalists and Patriots of the Revolutionary War to the Civil War just sixteen Presidents in, and even now, when it is Liberal vs. Conservative/Masks vs. No Masks/and so on.

For a group of college-aged activists, however, Elijah McClain’s death was a unifying event at a time when it’s easier to control people when they are put at odds. The Black and Brown Alliance in Greeley, CO has gathered together members of the community to hold peaceful protests, spread information, and hold rallies such as this to plant seeds in the community which question what we are seeing and being told. I won’t list the names of the people involved for a few reasons. First of all, their organization is not my story to tell. Second, as a person who has been a student of how the world works for quite a long time now, I want their identities to be protected. A more formal interview, rather than impartial observations of just one of their events would warrant something more in depth, that could really give creedence and justice to their cause.

For now, I am a tourist of their cause, and as the Pulp song “Common People” has taught us, “everybody hates a tourist.”

The event took place in Monfort Park on hot Friday afternoon in July. Considering the triple digit weather, the turnout was decent. I counted between 50 to 70 people in attendence. Everyone was masked and doing their best underneath the park sunshelters to maintain social distancing. Before the event started, people gathered to look at inspiring artwork that had been done by active members of the Black and Brown Alliance. A DJ played some great tracks and though everyone was more or less incognito because of the masks, it was a vibe of compassion, unity, and respect. In spite of what the news tells us, it wasn’t a riot. These days it seems like any protest or rally is portrayed as being a powderkeg of violence, and I will be honest, I didn’t know what to expect just because of what is shown in the news.

When the speakers took their turns at the mic to discuss the needless death of Elijah McClain, they brought in anectdotes as well as facts and figures supporting why there needs to be a sea-change of how race relations and tolerance are done in this country. I will admit that a few times, while watching the speakers, I had a few cringe-worthy moments when other white people, the middle-class tourists (not unlike myself) would throw a “Preach it!” or “YASSS!” into the discussion. In my own head, I could only think “This isn’t about you. This is a time to LISTEN.”

The purpose of this website is to challenge us to push our boundaries and “Get out more.” In my travels, I live by the motto of “Do something every day that scares you.” Because of the media, I really didn’t know what to expect, which I’m ashamed to say, doesn’t give credit to my friends who put this whole thing together. They are people of the utmost class, who include allies as well as those the cause directly affects. This is not the narrative the Press is running with.

The narrative has even included putting a wedge between different minorities. The Black and Latino communities haven’t always gotten along. There’s a reason for this. It is prescribed oppression. Divide and conquer. Keep the marginalized downtrodden and it makes controlling them easier.

I learned many things while being an observer, a tourist to life, and I hope I was able to take these lessons to heart, rather that being saturated by the rhetoric of the press. Media is more concerned with sensationalism than it is advocacy, much less accountability. They care less about reporting the news than they do promoting the brand names of their sponsors. This is why the news fits so many stories between commercial breaks, rather than exploring the entirety of a story. There are only the 5 W’s when it suits their agenda.

I got out to a protest, in this case, and though I didn’t get any answers, at least I gained the capability to ask better questions. There are good people in the world doing good work. In spite of what you believe right now, there is so much more to the story than you are being allowed to see. Speaking as someone perceived as a white male, (that’s a whole other post) I can assure you that more conversations need to take place. I think what most of us want is the same thing: we want a chance at happiness. We want liberty, equality, fellowship, and when pushed far enough, it’s not going to be a polite request for any of it. There comes a time when good people rise up and take what is already theirs.

So, push yourself. Do something every day that scares you. In this case, I might have been worried that some of my bubbles might have been popped. I was right. It’s not a bad thing to lose some disillusionment. For something like this, to those who feel like a tourist, it isn’t a very big jump to being involved once you open your eyes. When I heard the story of what happened to this kid, I thought that could have easily been me…however there was one exception. He was a black kid walking home at night, and he never made it home because of this. His killers even mocked him later (and got another slap on the wrist). As a “white” person, I probably would have just been harassed a little by the police and then sent home.

People, this is a difference. One of many. I’m an introverted dork who likes to walk alone at night, and I’m still alive. Think about that.

Getting started

I was talking with a friend the other day.  She hasn’t been out of the country but still daydreams about taking that big solo trip on her own.  Like I was, there are a lot of “buts” that came up in the conversation that kept getting in the way: Expense.  Time.  Age.  Many of us go through the majority of our lives daydreaming about that trip we are going to take. But there never seems to be enough time, money, or as we wind down we might put those kinds of dreams off for “maybe in another life.”  There is no other life. This is the one we get and it is up to us to live it!

First off, that age thing is a weak excuse.  I have met people in their eighties who are traveling happily, continuing to test their traveling skills.  The others are challenging, but not impossible obstacles.  In future posts, I will work on creative ways to work around those, but here I want to just flat out say it.  The only obstacle age throws in your path is when you are too young to do all the things.  If you are in your late 30s, 40s, 50s, etc., this is the time in your life you get to start appreciating the things you might have been too young to notice otherwise.  

Making that trip might seem like a daunting experience. Here are the first things you need if you are thinking about taking that first big trip.

Get your passport

This is the document that will let you cross into other countries.  Unfortunately, the majority of Americans don’t even have one!  I didn’t until about five years ago.  We live in a big country and unlike Europe or other continents, we don’t have many neighbors we visit that require the use of one.  

Excuses people use for not getting a passport

  • It will take several months for them to process your application and send you your passport.  Even pre-COVID-19 mine took about three months to get back.  The sooner you start, the sooner it will arrive!
  • You will need to mail in an official copy of your birth certificate.  I have yet to meet anyone whose birth certificate was lost in this process.  It’s not that scary.  Seriously. The cool thing about your passport is this can be used in lieu of your birth certificate for most purposes from here on out.  
  • It requires an investment.  I think mine was around $120 with fees and everything else to get started.  Renewal fees are much less once you actually get your passport.  Check the website for information.  https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports.html
  • $120 is not a lot of money, considering people will drop that much money on a day pass to an amusement park per person.  Think of this as your eTicket to see the world!
  • The pictures are terrible.  Yes.  Yes they are.  But you aren’t going to be gazing at your own picture for hours anyway, and Customs probably won’t look at it longer than about ten seconds to make sure it is you.  What you will hopefully be looking at is all the stamps you are about to start getting in the back of the book.

Start off small

You can just jump in with both feet, but you might just scare the hell out of yourself and have a rough time.  Then you’ll be throwing your passport across the room, cursing me for telling you to get out and have this awful experience.  Even a trick motorcycle rider learned how to ride on a two-wheeler first.  

Pick a country where you speak the same language.  This is actually trickier than you might think.  Though I have some experience with a few other languages, my accent sucks and my knowledge extends about as far in Japanese to order a bowl of noodles, and in Spanish, I can ask a variety of questions that inevitably end up with the person I’m speaking to switching to broken English, which is usually much better than my broken Spanish.

For my first International solo adventure, I picked the United Kingdom.  Not just because I had a lot of interest in the UK historically, ancestrally, and culturally, but also because I knew I could communicate with people once I got there.  Well, funny thing about that, American English is getting difficult to understand.  My somewhat pronounced Western drawl (which is especially obvious when conversing with people in the Queen’s English) meant that sometimes I had to repeat myself.  So eventually, I wound up sounding Canadian.  They talk like us, only they enunciate each word.  This is important.  American English is almost like speaking cursive.

Start saving

Travel is expensive.  But only because it is extraordinary to your daily life.  It really isn’t any more expensive than setting aside a Christmas fund or money for birthdays and graduations.  Some destinations are more expensive than others too.  I was warned about how expensive London was, but really I didn’t find it any worse than tourist traps in the US that aren’t far from my front door.  Lunch in Estes Park, CO is about as spendy as a meal in London.  

There are other expenses you might not be accustomed to, however.  Train fares, mass transport, and even pay toilets can be eye-opening.  Set aside some money for tourist crap to drag home, but use the brunt of it for experiences.  You don’t need to dust them and nobody can take them away.

A decent start on the first day of your adventure.

Getting Prepared

Once you have decided you want to travel, here are some more things you can do before you actually decide to purchase those plane tickets or book your stay. It’s a gradual process and doesn’t have to happen all at once. Pace yourself and have fun with the experience. The learning curve gets steeper from here, but like the best travel guide in the galaxy will tell you: Don’t Panic!

Do your research

Picking a destination can be like that game you played as a kid in school, where you spin the globe and wherever your fingers stops it is where you will go.  My suggestion for starting small is to pick somewhere you are interested in seeing.  This will give you some destination goals, an idea of an itinerary, and you can start doing some research on it to learn about things such as good places to eat, stay, nightlife, places of interest.  Free shit!

Economize

Start looking at airfares now, even if you aren’t planning on flying for a year or so.  If you can get a good gauge on what it will cost to fly, you’ll have a better idea what to budget for.  Peak seasons affect ticket prices, but so do all sorts of other factors.  You can get some sweet deals if you check out websites with ticket prices.  Beware of multiple layovers and other complicated exchanges.  Spending an extra $40 might be worth every penny to have a direct flight.  Unless you have a layover of a day or so, it might not be worth the wait going through customs, and nearly every airport is alike, so taking six hours on a layover so you can sit in a food court is pointless, especially if an hour of that is waiting in line to have your passport stamped.

Get some folding money

Even if it’s just pocket money for one day, order up some foreign currency from your bank.  You can’t blow it here, and it will give you some incentive for your trip.  Don’t get too much.  Come to find out, your bank will screw you over with fees and commercial vs. Personal exchange rates (I learned that the hard way).  You are probably better off getting just enough money for a day and then pulling the rest out of an ATM when you get there.  An ATM will give you an fair exchange rate. Don’t use the money changers at the airport!

Be prepared

All the stuff I packed for a week in the UK. It fit into one carry-on bag.

Depending on where you are going, start building your travel equipment now.  Here are some essentials I wholeheartedly recommend for international travel:

  • Smartphone: Just make sure you have some kind of international plan activated, and turn off all your cellular use unless you want to pay a fortune every time your phone decides to use data to update your apps.  
    • Take pics of your passport to use as a copy in case you lose it.  
    • Take pics of things you see, but also street addresses, business cards, phone numbers, etc.  You can refer to these later if you need to ask for directions or show them to a cab driver if you suck at the language. 
    • Access maps if you can connect to wifi or via cellular in a pinch.
    • Text traveling companions, or family to keep them posted of your proof of life.
  • A multi-country power adapter: Mine has several ports for USB, power, and a cord too for my phone
  • A good quality day/backpack: My carry-on is an Osprey Ozone 46.  My walking around bag is an Osprey Daylite; it holds maps, rain jacket, and snacks.
  • A water bottle:  I use a hydro flask.  Just fill it up at a filtered drinking fountain and you can stay hydrated for almost free.  In tourist cities, fizzy drinks and booze are not only expensive, but they dehydrate you too.
  • Good shoes: Americans don’t walk around much.  You should get used to walking wherever you go. Old, uneven pavements beat the hell out of your feet.  Standing in museums is exhausting. Good shoes mean the difference between a good trip and a miserable day.
It all fits! Complete with waterbottle.

Getting out more

The old cliche says the longest journey begins with the first step. Last year I took my first international solo trip and though I did plenty of research on what I needed to do once I got there, only experience could really prepare me for any of it. The path to get to that point was not easy, with the one exception, I made the conscious decision to do it.

Without much prior experience, the learning curve was steep. Other than a few family vacations while growing up, which consisted of driving past some of America’s most iconic landmarks in a hot car with no air conditioning, my experience was fairly limited.  When I was seventeen, I embarked on an adventure that got me hooked on travel, new experiences, and making new friends along the way.

Then for the next twenty years, I did none of those things.  I was in an unhappy marriage, I became a dad of three amazing kids, and then one day my life changed.  I was divorced and starting a new path of rediscovery.  Like the caterpillar, I had been in a cocoon and everything that I had been before was liquefied.  I had the choice to become something else.  The person I had been on track to becoming but sometimes you get sidetracked.  

I kept running into situations that in my early 40’s were completely alien to me.  It seemed like more often than not, someone was telling me that I needed to get out more.  What do you mean you haven’t done X? Had I been living under a rock? Yes, in a way I had been. While I had spent nearly the entirety of my adulthood wiping butts and noses, my friends had traveled to Europe or Asia, sometimes Africa.  They had mortgages and investment portfolios.  I had a folding table and was gradually putting my life back together.  I had never even bought plane tickets. It wasn’t a matter of keeping up with the Joneses, but more catching up to what I always wanted to do.

It took nearly five years to get to the point where I wedged myself between two strangers on an international flight and stepped off in a completely different place.  My expectations quickly flew out the window.  I had to think quickly on my feet and at other times, just let the moment sweep me along with it.

In this travelblog, I’m going to share with you my experiences, my victories and failures.  I am also going to try to reach out a hand and help anyone else who found themselves in a situation like this.  Taking that trip wasn’t just for me, but it was for my kids as well.  We teach our children through example and we should genuinely be living life to the fullest, rather than showing them a simulation.  Not only have I worked to catch up with my own expectations in travel, but it’s my job to show my kiddo (the only one left at home now) how to get out of your comfort zone and truly live.

Sometimes my trips are solo.  Sometimes he’s right there with me.  People come and go into our lives with the passage of time.  We celebrate the moments and enjoy the experiences.

My son and I at Arthur’s Rock, Colorado having a snack.