It was an incredible feeling to wake up in Colorado!
I had a full day of open adventure ahead of me. Golden rays of light from the morning sunrise were now peeking through the window, inviting me to go outside and experience the world. Renee had left for work early that morning, leaving me on my own to start exploring Colorado! The first step was to decide what to do with my day.
The decision was easy. I was going to go visit the town of Boulder. I had never actually been there, but I had heard so many different people over the years telling me how much they loved it there. In fact, the more I had learned about Boulder, the cooler it seemed to me. I could almost hear the town itself calling out to me.
I made the mistake of heading into town during the morning rush hour and the streets were absolutely packed. Renee had been warning me how bad traffic was all around Boulder and Denver, and now I was experiencing it firsthand. But even in spite of the traffic, the drive from Broomfield to Boulder was awesome. The winding road took me directly towards the stunning mountain range that I had been marveling at the night before. Boulder itself seemed to be perfectly situated, nicely tucked into the base of these mountains. I could already see why people loved it here.
I eventually parked my car and began my explorations at the Pearl Street Mall. Boulder has an outdoor mall area in the middle of town that spans four or five blocks. It was pretty low key when I started exploring, but I also realized that it was early in the morning. Stores were slowly opening. There were a few hippies hanging out on the corners playing music. There were also some yuppies hanging out at tables outside, drinking morning coffee, and having (what I assumed to be) seemingly intense political/philosophical discussions. I explored slowly, taking in the general vibe of the town and the people. My favorite part of this mall wasn’t the mall itself. It was those stunning mountains that were towering over the town. Every time I glanced upward, I was greeted by a view of those breathtaking mountains, and my soul felt a little lighter. It seemed so unreal to me that people got to actually LIVE here.
Pearl Street Mall was pretty quiet and uneventful this early in the morning, so next I decided to explore the University of Colorado Boulder campus for a while. It looked pretty similar to any other university campus, aside from the mountains towering over it. Walking through a college campus brought back a lot of memories of when I was in college. And to my sudden and complete astonishment, I realized that 14 years had passed since I had first been a freshman in college. As the scurry of 18 years olds rushed by me on their way to class, I suddenly felt very old.
My head was spinning at this thought. I watched students running around with their backpacks and textbooks and I experienced a brief pang of jealousy. I couldn’t help but wonder what it would have been like to have my college experience somewhere beautiful and inspiring like Boulder, instead of the underwhelming cornfields of Indiana.
The more I walked and explored Boulder, the more mesmerized I became by those beautiful mountains which loomed over the town. They were beckoning me. They looked SO close. Were they accessible? Could I hike into them?
I did a quick google search and discovered that I could indeed hike into these mountains. They were called The Flatirons and I could see why. They were very triangular and the faces of them seemed pressed almost unnaturally flat. They indeed looked like flat irons. According to Google, there were a lot of trails here in Boulder which would take me into the flatirons. So I meandered my way down to an area called Chautauqua Park which is where the trails all began.
The internet seemed to recommend a great hike between the 1st and 2nd peak of the Flatirons, but when I arrived I discovered that this particular trail was under maintenance and closed for the next few days. Bummer! I was disappointed but still eager to explore, so I went into the main office to get a trail map. An older bearded hippie with a grey ponytail greeted me and I asked him for some hiking advice.
When I told him that I was from Chicago, and that I had just arrived in Colorado yesterday, he laughed. “You are woefully unprepared for this altitude,” he told me. “You will also need a lot more water. This is high desert.”
Okay, it was true. I was unprepared. Hiking these trails had been a very spontaneous idea. I had tried to purchase more water and some snacks when I first arrived at Chautauqua Park, but the nearby stores were closed. Either way, I had a full bottle of water. And I had spent enough time snowboarding in actual mountains that I wasn’t terribly concerned about hiking at this much lower altitude.
The hippie gave me a map and outlined a hike for me anyway. “Turn around immediately if you start to get a headache,” he warned me. “When you are half way done with your water, it’s time to turn around.”
So I began the hike. I did feel the altitude. I had to move at a slow and steady pace to prevent myself from getting winded. As soon as I started to huff a little bit, I would stop to take some pictures of the town below. There were a lot of locals jogging up and down these trails. I am in good physical shape but there was no way I could go running up these trails right now. That is when I began to understand the true effects this altitude was actually having on my body.
As I hiked up the trail, I continued to take glances (and pictures!) of the town sprawled below. Every time I glanced back, Boulder was a little farther below me. Soon the trail dove deep into the woods surrounding the base of the mountains. I came up to a sign that warned of the dangers of bears on this trail. This was terrifying! How many bears were actually around here? They couldn’t be THAT common, I rationalized, or there wouldn’t be so many people on these trails. But as I looked around I realized that I hadn’t seen anybody else on this trail with me in a while. It would suck to get mauled by a bear, all alone in the Colorado mountains, with nobody around. Oh man!
But I refused to retreat! I continued onward, despite the warning of bears. The trail twisted and turned, occasionally leading to clearings and giving way to spectacular vistas of the town below. I took a lot of pictures and loved every moment of this hike. There is something about hiking in the forests and being in nature that completely recharges me. It felt so good to be exploring these mountain forests on this beautiful autumn day in Colorado. Slowly the trail came around and began to descend back downward towards the town. It had been a great hike. I never developed a headache, nor did I run out of water. And when I made it back to the start at Chautauqua Park, I felt very accomplished.
The strenuous hike had left me with a ravenous hunger so I returned into town for lunch. Over the course of the day Boulder had transformed. What began as a quiet empty town was now lively and bustling with activity. There were swarms of college kids everywhere. My fantasies of moving to Boulder kind of crumbled when I realized that I was now too old to enjoy living in a college town. I also wasn’t sure how I felt about the mixed hippie/yuppie vibe.
Despite all that, I will say that I loved Boulder. The atmosphere here was really awesome. There were a lot of very interesting stores and artsy decorations everywhere. Everyone seemed very laid back. The Pearl Street Mall was much more energetic when I returned and I had a lot more fun exploring it this time around.
I decided to head back shortly before 4PM. Renee had warned me that traffic got really bad around rush hour and I wasn’t in the mood to sit in a traffic jam. She had just gotten home from work when I arrived, so we hung out for a little while.
Then she asked if I wanted to go to the scuba store in Denver. Renee had a big scuba trip to Mexico planned in about a week and she wanted to get something for her trip. She also knew that I was very into scuba diving now that I had just gotten my PADI Open Water Certification. So hell yeah I was all about checking out the dive shop! Not only was it a cool reason to go explore Denver, but I would also get to fawn over awesome scuba gear and fantasize about all the underwater ocean adventures in my future.
It ended up being a fun little excursion and I was pretty tired when we got back to her place. I had just spent my first day in Colorado and had absolutely loved it. It still felt unreal that I was even here, exploring a new world of adventure. I felt like any moment I could wake up, back at home, back in my rut. But for now, I would enjoy my little adventure
My first day exploring Colorado was fantastic. I was excited to be on this road trip, but I was also a bit worried that it wouldn’t live up to my expectations, and that I would go home disappointed and unsatisfied. Looking back now, it’s funny how completely wrong I was. I was still unaware of all the amazing adventures and fantastic experiences that were racing towards me! I was on what would prove to be an incredible journey through the American Southwest.
And it was just the beginning….