Routines vs Spontaneity: Lessons Learned from a Mountain Road Trip

13012841_1399130246779755_6786660702991710477_nThe plans were all set. I would catch a very early 6 am flight from Hartford to Albuquerque so we could be on the road before noon. My good friend Debra and I had planned every last detail as far as what hotel we would stay at, how long we would stay at each place, and even which restaurants we would eat at (even made reservations ahead of time). She is my “road trip” sister. Ever since she and her family moved from Connecticut back to their home state of New Mexico, she has gotten me to do some crazy road trips which,before meeting her, I would never do. She is an adventurous spirit, horse rescuer, true cow girl and I am pretty much the opposite. Anyway, since my son moved out to Nederland, Colorado several years ago she has been urging me to fly out and take a road trip up there to visit him. She goes to Colorado all the time to ride her horses and it would be fun….so she says.

Well, I missed my son so much and needed to see where he lived and needed to understand what it was about the place that made him never move home back east. Between two mothers, we had the plans made in no time. She would pick me up in her giant white truck at the airport and we would be in Sante Fe, New Mexico before noon. I would be sitting in the sun, sipping a margarita on the rooftop deck at the Coyote Cafe by lunch time. I could almost feel the sun and taste that yummy lime. But almost as soon as I landed in sunny New Mexico, my son sends me a text “you might want to get here as soon as you can. We are supposed to get a lot of snow”. But that was not in the plan.

When Debra pulled up in that giant white truck, after being shocked at the size of this monster (aka Bertha), we hugged and laughed and started on our adventure. All I can say is thank goodness Bertha is a big strong girl.

I immediately told Debra about my text. Since Sante Fe is less than an hour away, we needed to make a decision quick as to what to do. Should we cancel our night there and head straight to beautiful Boulder (which was supposed to be where we went the day after our wonderful day of shopping in Sante Fe). We thought it would be easier to drive the almost 500 miles on a Saturday, missing rush hour in Denver and still getting enough time in Boulder. The problem was that sometimes the main road going up gets shut down due to snow, and we did not want that to happen. Debra was worried I would be too exhausted to go straight to Boulder since I had woken up that morning at 3:30 am to get to the airport by 4:00 am. But I was on a mission, and as much as I wanted to have my moment in the sun in Sante Fe, I even more so wanted to get to my son.

I said, “Let’s go for it!” And so we did. It took over 7 hours to reach what was to be our 2nd destination in Boulder due to some traffic when we hit Denver. But the ride was beautiful, and we could see storms brewing out to the west of us and also to the east (if you have never been to the southwest, you can often see for miles and miles). The hotel in Sante Fe did not charge us to cancel and the hotel in Boulder had a room for us a day early. After we checked in, it started to lightly rain, but we both were starving (Debra stocked her car with munchies but pistachios, chips and grapes only go so far). So we walked around the beautiful town of Boulder in the drizzle and found a great place to eat and sip a glass of well-earned wine. I was starting to feel a little funny, a bit dizzy and just contributed it to the altitude and lack of sleep. I had been out west before, and I remember the effect on breathing in the higher elevation, and it was no big deal. But I had not been to Nederland which was a bit higher (like a few thousand feet).

Morning came, and the original plan was to take the day and shop in sunny beautiful Boulder (I was really looking forward to this as I never saw Boulder, and my older daughter absolutely loved the town when she visited). It was now Saturday, and the plan was to go Sunday up to Nederland which was less than 20 miles away. We had rented a house up there instead of a hotel, because I really wanted to cook for my son and have a place to hang out. So Saturday morning we made our way to a wonderful little breakfast place to try to decide what to do. It was starting to snow. My son’s girlfriend texted me “we are supposed to get 3-4 feet of snow, you might want to get here as soon as you can. A foot has dropped already and is just starting to stick”. This was not the plan, it was supposed to be sunny and warm! We decided to check our options. Yes, there were hotels that had rooms up in Nederland, and even better, we would be able to check into the VRBO house we rented a day early. Again, we decided “let’s just do it! Let’s get there!”

The hotel again let us cancel without charge and we made our way up the mountain. It was only 9:30 am. The road was just wet in Boulder, but as we made our way up the mountain and got closer, the snow started sticking. When I checked out this road on google maps, it did not look this curvy, and I certainly did not even realize it went up and up and up……and up. Debra was clinging to the steering wheel, going nice and slow, staying away from the edges when it got a bit hairy. My body was reeling from a mix of excitement and anxiety, but also (now I have learned) from a case of “Mountain Sickness”. Like I said, I knew the altitude can affect your breathing, but I had never heard of the illness before. Apparently, it can be very serious for some people, and even result in death. I just felt nauseous, exhausted, like I could not take a deep breath and like I needed to curl up in a ball. Some people get bad headaches, I did not.

Anyway, we finally get to the tiny sweet town of Nederland which is 2 feet deep in snow by now (with more to come) and we head straight to the grocery store. I huddled under a huge winter coat as my sweet friend trudges through the snow to get the groceries. I was shivering, even with the heat on. This was not the plan!

Debra finally emerges with the groceries, I text the owner of the home to see if we can check in early. He needs a payment apparently, so, I see a coffee shop and we walk (well, not walk, but trudge though the 2 feet of snow, that is the only word that works, trudge) get to the tiny restaurant, log on to their internet and make the payment. Finally, we find the house, I drag myself in, immediately take off the wet cold clothes, take a long hot shower, put on PJ’s, grab a big fluffy throw and curl up in front of the fire. Again, not what I had in my mind as to how it would be when I got here. We were supposed to be sipping wine in front of this fire, celebrating, and getting ready to go out to see my son. Instead I could not move and was clinging on to my can of instant oxygen (don’t laugh, and be sure to get one if you ever visit Colorado), and sipping my herbal tea.

Once the snow stopped and I felt better, the rest of the trip was wonderful! The moment I first hugged my son, I was so happy Debra and I had the ability to be spontaneous. And brave. I was thankful for my health and that I had the stamina to get up at 3:30 am, fly a few thousand miles and still be able to drive 500 miles (and enjoy it). We were ok with things “not going as planned”and we both laughed at how much we loved the craziness of it all.

The rest of the week was spent with my son and his girlfriend, meeting his great friends, eating at the eclectic restaurants there and driving around the mountain roads to see even more lovely majestic mountains. It seemed to me the people there were different. Nobody dressed up, no high heels, not much make up, no fanciness at all. The children ran free and played with each other, with no tablet or video game to be seen. People worked hard and cherished their time with friends and family. Even with the 4 feet of snow, people were laughing and smiling, everyone was so kind. There were many artists and interesting characters in this tiny town. As it finally was time to drive down that mountain to head home, it all made sense to me. Why my son never left once he found this tiny community in the mountains. The experience also made me think of how most of us live out here in the faster-paced east coast. The trip made me think of what a gift it is to be able to change your plans and be spontaneous. Some people I know are definitely not ok with this. Some of us do the same things every single day, get up, make the coffee, get dressed, go to work, go home, do it all again the next day. Some people are very picky with food, and might have struggled with the unpredictability of what and when you could eat. There were no gyms to be found up there in the mountains, although lots of outdoor activity like snow boarding, mountain biking, hiking and skiing. The drive down the mountain was much different than the snowy drive up. The sun was shining, it was warm out, the views were crystal clear. We got our walk in around Boulder, window shopping and finally a goodbye toast. Debra dropped me off at the airport and drove off in Bertha (who went from covered in snow to covered in mud, and finally cleaned at the car wash and back to herself). I got in to Connecticut late (almost 1:00 am) and woke to sunshine and blooming tulips, it seems everything woke up when I was gone.

This road trip to the mountains of Colorado taught me a few things, and reminded me of a few things, too.

  • Don’t go visit a high altitude destination and assume you are going to be ok. Research “mountain sickness” and take precautions. Drink a lot of water, rest, and the best thing is to get there gradually if you can so your body can get adjusted
  • Try to stay in touch with your body even when you travel. If you are going from one time zone to another, it does have an affect on your appetite and hunger. It can be confusing. Most of us have environmental triggers to remind us to eat (“it’s lunchtime!”) but when you are traveling and there is no “lunchtime” and you start to feel tired and grouchy, you are most likely hungry. Bring food with you to keep you going. There is not always a restaurant on the way (especially out west where you can travel for miles and see absolutely nothing but the mountains and sky).
  • ALWAYS carry lots of water. I learned that most people die of dehydration in the spring and fall, and not the summer when they are in the mountains. It is because you don’t feel hot and don’t feel sweat, but the air is so dry, you lose more water from your body even if you are not sweating.
  • It is a gift to be spontaneous. Can you deal with a change of plans? Do you have “expectations” as to how things will be when you plan something, so that you end up being totally disappointed when they don’t turn out that way? Maybe change it up a bit, even in your simple daily life. Skip the gym and work in the garden. Heck with the meat, potato, vegetable, pick up some random ethnic food and try it. Mix it up, life it short.
  • People look at the world with different glasses. When Debra and I woke up to 4 feet of snow covering Bertha, we could not stop taking pictures. To us, it added to a wonderful adventure. It was beautiful. To some of my friends back east, it triggered nausea! My husband, who hates the snow, would not have been happy. What is wrong with us? Both Debra and I were ecstatic to be there with a fire blazing, reading, relaxing and enjoying this fluke spring snow storm. Maybe it is a matter of choice? Maybe you can look at many situations as good or bad, depending on what glasses you choose….
  • Life is kind of nice without TV
  • Having fancy clothes, perfect hair, an expensive car and manicured nails does not bring smiles to people’s faces. Human connections do. Seeing a small community where my son lives care about each other so much, helping each other, laughing together, simply playing and eating and connecting seems healthier to me than the things we seem to focus on.
  • It may not be easy for restrictive eaters or dieters or picky eaters to go with the flow when you travel, but part of the fun to me was trying different foods and dishes. I don’t eat steak much, mostly because I don’t know how to cook it well. This week I had steak a few times and it was yummy. One dish had “mixed vegetables” made of corn and peppers and onions and a few other things, and it was so good, I asked the cook (who my son knew well) how she made it. “Bacon fat” she said. I wondered why I felt so unbelievably full. It was worth it. There is one thing I won’t try and that is Colorado Rocky Mountain Oysters because they are not fish. Anyway, if you have the opportunity to experience something new, don’t let “food rules” ruin your life experiences. You may not get another chance.
  • We all deserve to nurture our family and friend relationships. Give yourself time with your children, parents, brothers, sisters and your friends. I know I often feel guilty when I don’t accomplish what I think I am supposed to (like not writing a post last week….it was one thing I just could not accomplish before I left). We can’t always “do it all”. Be thankful if you have children, parents, friends and relatives to visit and enjoy. These are the important things in life (if you ask me). This road trip confirmed that in so many ways. It was so good to see Debra and words can’t describe the joy of seeing my son.                                                                                                                                                                       But for now, it is just good to be home, seeing the flowers starting to bloom, and not a snow flake in sight. Back to reality.



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