Road Trip America – Urban bouldering in the rain at Central Park in Denver, Colorado

The first two days of our time in Denver were entirely rained out, putting a damper on our plans for a full week of hardcore climbing. By the third day, we were growing restless. On Thursday, we wasted a few hours loafing around in McGoo’s house, and happened upon a link for a Denver park that housed amazing artificial boulders.

The site warned that the park was nearly always overrun with throngs of kids, making it hard to take the climbing seriously. We decided to rough out the rain and headed to the supposed climbing in Central Park anyways. Our decision paid off, because the playground was a ghost town due to the dreary weather – we had this unbelievable park all to ourselves.

Aside from the sculpted boulder formations, this park was a Dr. Seuss fantasy land with miniature purple hills, zany metal sculptures and plenty of things to swing, spin and fall off of. Despite the rain, we all had a blast. One of my dad’s graduation gifts came in handy when the rain started falling a bit harder: He gave me a camera cover for taking shots in the rain, and it was ideal for this situation.


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Road Trip America – Frozen treats at Sweet Action Ice Cream in Denver, Colorado

After stuffing face at Bull & Bush Brewery in Denver, I didn’t think I’d have room for any dessert – but I was wrong. Local Denver lady Sara insisted that we head to the Sweet Action Ice Cream shop for some post-dinner deliciousness.

I had resolved not to touch a bite of ice cream, until Sara suggested that I try the salted butterscotch flavor – how could I refuse that? I ordered a single scoop, which was really two scoops, and dug in to one of the most creamy, salty treats imaginable.

My cup of frozen cream was flawless. The actual ice cream was thick and creamy, with none of that icy bite that I loathe. Every few bites would present a little crunch of salted butterscotch, delivered in modest amounts that never overwhelmed me. My only regret about my experience at Sweet Action is that I didn’t take the time to ask for a sample of the ginger peach flavor, which sounds out of this world. Return visit in the making?

The shop handmakes all their flavors, and is constantly updating their giant chalkboard menu with new offerings. They have all the usuals like milk chocolate and vanilla bean, plus a selection of unique concoctions like peach ginger, basil lime sorbet and pineapple upside down cake. For the discerning eater, they even have multiple vegan flavors available.

The store front itself doesn’t suggest the epic ice cream that awaits; all you see is white walls with few scattered paintings and an open air counter at the front of the shop. Don’t let their humble appearance fool you, Sweet Action recently earned accolades as one of the top ice cream stops in America by Food & Wine.

Have I mentioned lately how smitten I am with local businesses? Why would you ever go to an ice cream shop chain when you can have freshly made, locally influenced sweet treats? Top notch, Sweet Action!

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Beer and Green Chili at Bull & Bush Brewery in Denver, Colorado

From the moment we arrived in Denver, Niko made his mission clear: He was in dire need of a micro-brew with excellent beer and pub food. We left the decision making up to the Colorado residents; McGoo and Rob did us good.

Bull & Bush Pub and Brewery is the dreamchild of two Denver natives, who grew up biking past a local dairy shop that would eventually be home to their award-winning brews in 1971. The atmosphere screams ‘pub,’ with dim lighting and heaping plates of grub. The playlist didn’t quite set the mood, with funky 90s reggae and pop hit that’s mildly disturbed my beer drankin’ attitude.

I ordered the tuna melt, with a side of mashed potatoes topped with Bull & Bush’s famous green chili. It was hands-down the best tuna melt I have ever had, excellently seasoned tuna, cheese and avocado smooshed on a buttery croissant. Niko got the Ruben sandwich and a Man Beer, plus a Hefeweizen that he had to order for me because I’m a fool and forgot my ID. The rest of the table order juicy burgers, in both beef and bison varieties.

Two very big thumbs up for this brewery. Our waiter was entertaining and honest – he frankly informed us that the burger of the month was pretty lame when we asked about it. The food, service, ambiance and company was superb. If you’re in Denver, be sure to check this place out for some great beer and grub.

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Roadtripping across America in search of climbing, beer, adventure and glory – Three Days Until Departure!

I’ve spent months saving, planning and daydreaming about my trip across America, and in three very short days, Road Trip 2011 will begin with a bang – well, more of a 24 hour haul towards Colorado, but a bang nonetheless.

Naturally, the plan is to take you along for the ride. I’ll make plenty of updates on the road, and will do my best to post pictures as I go. To get you acquainted with the plan, here’s a map of our route, compliments of my road trip planner:

We’ll start the trip off with a grueling 24-hour haul to Denver, Colorado, where we’ll be spending a few days hanging out with McGoo and the boys. After Denver, it’s off to Aspen for a beautiful 8.5 mile hike to Conundrum Springs. Next we’ll spend some time in Moab, Utah, climbing and rafting with our buddies Jeff and Ryan. The climax of our trip will be our week spent in Yosemite and Bishop, California. Once we’ve climbed ourselves raw, we’ll relax for a few days in San Francisco. We’ll end the trip with a few days exploring Chattanooga, looking for some houses and job opportunities for me.

Basically, I could ooze my excitement for hours. The packing shall begin tomorrow, and then on Monday morning at 5:00 AM — we’re off. Hell yeah.

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Image of the Day: Diggin’ for pollen in Denver.

A classic shot from last year’s midwest road trip, and one of my all time favorite critter photos. I can’t recall if we were waiting for someone or just decided to stop, but our crew ended up spending quite some time exploring this charming community garden in Denver, Colorado.

There were bees swarming every blossom, and pudgy vegetables lined the soiled pathways. I’m no gardening expert, but the keepers of this little sliver of land certainly knew what they were doing by the looks of their blushing rhubarb and cautious signs that warned of recently planted seeds or particularly delicate plants. It made me want a garden, so very badly.

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The countdown begins – 29 days until road trippin’ around America for an entire month.

Graduation is creeping up on me faster than the new rock gym weirdo, and the conclusion of my time as a Florida State University student signifies the approach of what promises to be the most influential travels of my life thus far. Niko and I will be journeying across the country in my family’s sizable Pilot – climbing, camping, drinking local brews, getting messy and discovering all the untouched beauty of America.

Here’s a rough sketch of our agenda:

About a week after my graduation ceremony, we’ll be heading out of Tallahassee with Rich and a wine cooler to be delivered to Fort Collins. We’ll spend the next few days pushing up towards Colorado, where we’ll drop off Rich and the cooler, then freeload for a while on McGoo’s couch in Denver. Afterwards, we’ll make our way out to Moab to visit Jeff and Ryan while they spend the summer as rafting guides on the Colorado River.

From there, we’ll shoot up to the ultimate destination: Yosemite National Park. A good chunk of our trip will be spent within the park, hiking and climbing in the beautiful California air. Since I’m so close to my old stomping grounds, we’ll have to make the final push to the bay area so I can feast my eyes upon the Pacific ocean. After California, our plans get hazy, but I’m hoping for a stop at Carlsbad Caverns on the way back to Tallahassee.

29 days, baby. The planning, organizing, preparing and packing has already begun, presenting another distraction. Next weekend, I’ll be heading out on the Climbing Club at FSU’s spring trip to Rocktown near La Fayette, GA – so expect photos and stories as usual.

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Welcome to Colorado Springs

This is my third, and last, attempt at composing an update today. I started with a carefully composed account of our travels these past days, which was ruthlessly devoured by my iPhone moments before publication. Then, I made a second attempt that also fell victim to the clutches of failed technology. So here it is, my final attempt:

When I last left you, we were deliriously driving down a desolate Utah road, winding through switchbacks as an inexplicably awake McGoo navigated them Jeep. We ended up spending the night in a Walmart parking lot. I woke up a tangled mess of limbs with Niko in the backseat. We sped out of Utah in the early morning light, headed back towards Colorado.

I had my first experience with true mountain driving yesterday as we made our way back towards the Denver area. It was slightly frightening to guide the temperamental Jeep through an afternoon rain storm while the boys snoozed away, but I thoroughly enjoyed the snow-capped scenery. I definitely want to spend some time living in Colorado during the next decade of my life; this place is unlike anything I have ever seen before.

We stopped in Evergreen, CO, to do some climbing at Three Little Sisters park. We got lost trying to locate the boulder fields, but it brought us upon a bunch of peaceful deer lounging amongst the rocks and pines. I love the feeling of making eye contact with a creature, and feeling a mutual, non-threatening connection.

We finally happened upon a few good problems before the sun went down. Niko almost lost his footing on a top out when he startled a chipmunk at the top of a route, who angrily chastised Niko for disturbing his perch. I worked a few routes, which reminded me of my hatred for top outs. I’ve clearly spent too much time climbing indoors.

As the sun bid us a final farewell for the evening, we headed into Denver to catch a late showing of Inception. Spending $17.00 on an IMAX ticket almost gave me a heart attack, but the movie lived up to all the hype. I generally do not enjoy movies, but this one kept my attention from beginning to end. After an unfulfilling meal at Perkins, we drove back out to Pike National Forest and pitched a quick tent.

Today was a lazy day, mainly spent in Denver. We dropped McGoo off for lunch with an old friend, then headed towards our own grub destination, Jack-n-Grill. I had heard about it while watching TV in my Jackson Hole hotel room over the weekend. They boast creation of the world’s largest burrito – 7 pounds of potatoes, 12 eggs, 1/2 pound of ham and everything but the kitchen sink. Any woman who finishes one eats free at Jack-n-Grill for the rest of her life. I settled for a bean and cheese burrito, which was still an epic struggle to finish. Jeff ordered a burger that was the size of his head. The best part is, it was a cheap eat. Nothing is as satisfying as a brick-sized burrito that costs less than $8.00. Hell, I could get two burritos there for less than the price of a single IMAX ticket.

We met back up with McGoo at a charming community garden in a residential area of Denver. It was bursting with vegetables and towering flower stalks. I snapped some shots with my AE1 while bees and tiny birds flitted around the garden.

This entire state is covered in sunflowers – in the community garden, in the parks, even all along the highways. Add that to the list of reasons I want to live out here. Did I mention the medical marijuana dispensaries sitting on every street corner?

Currently, we are headed towards our campsite in Colorado Springs, near the Garden of the Gods. The next few days will be filled with climbing on outlandish red rock formations, and I promise to keep my loyal readers updated as usual.

In the meantime, do me a favor. Leave me a quick comment with your name – I’d love to know who is reading this, and where you came from. I’m getting upwards of 100 views a day. I know my viewers range from classmates to my parents’ co-workers, but I’m curious for specifics! Thank you for reading, you give me reason to keep writing.

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Colorado and Wyoming Surprises

Shalom from Interstate 80 West, deep in Wyoming as we drive past the impressive natural landmark of Table Rock. Last night we finally had our first night of camping in Colorado, although it took us until about 2 AM to find a location we could legally/safely pitch our tent. When we finally entered Colorado last evening, it was too dark to appreciate our surroundings. However, this morning when I woke up at the crack of dawn and ventured outside the tent, my eyes could not stop absorbing all of the natural beauty around us. Colorado is my new favorite state.

The day started off well, with Niko reminding me that today is our 8 month anniversary – officiating me as his longest relationship.

Things only got better, as I finally received an email from the company I interviewed with last week. I GOT THE JOB! I can now officially call myself a travel writer, which is a dream come true for me. It will be a bittersweet goodbye to my job at Tallahassee Taekwondo Academy, but I am endlessly excited to start working towards my true career passion.

We ate breakfast at a friendly local restaurant, “Egg & I.” My breakfast came with some of the best bacon I have ever tasted. Niko didn’t want to spend money, so he only ordered a coffee. The restaurant manager deemed this unacceptable, and insisted that Niko eat a muffin on the house. Niko refused, typical, but the manager brought him a freshly baked blueberry muffin with butter and an orange slice anyways. “I can’t watch someone not eat something in my restaurant,” cited the man. I am still blown away by this random act of kindness.

When we got back on the road, I was so caught up in my excitement over the job that I didn’t even notice when we crossed the Colorado border into Wyoming. A few hours in, we realized we were in dire need of gas. Jeff veered off the first exit he happened upon, which yielded no sources of fuel, but brought us upon a fantastic collection of granite boulders. We explored them for about an hour, and it got me pumped for some beautiful climbing scenery.

We’re about 4 hours away from meeting up with Dan Cardenas in the Grand Tetons. I’m looking forward to a warm shower and a hot meal. Keep the comments coming, they entertain me during these long stretches of endless road.

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