I had a sort of butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling all of Thursday, knowing it was the unofficial start to the trip. We weren’t leaving for Wyoming until Sunday or Monday, but we were heading towards Twin Lakes for the weekend and would not be turning back. Goodbye to Colorado Springs for two months! It was simultaneously exciting and daunting.
I spent the morning working and putting the final touches on my house, which I’m renting out for the duration of the trip, while Ryan spent the morning working ad putting the final touches on his car, our home for the duration of the trip. At lunch time, he arrived at my house, which had a couple sprawling piles of stuff to add to the already packed car – one solely consisting of food, the other being all my individual and group gear to contribute. Pancake mix and bear spray and camp slippers and passports, Canadian dollars and parks passes and Band-Aids and a bottle of white wine. All of it would be loaded into the Forester strategically, with us agreeing on their individual locations.
Though we were both a bit jittery, we knew we were ready. We’ve spent the better part of the last two months finding the perfect spot for each piece of our gear in the Subie, eliminating unnecessary items, downsizing others, and investing in small comforts, including a French press. We’ve learned the hard way that Starlink does not work well when surrounded by trees and that bug spray is imperative. We’ve discussed how we’ll mitigate sun and rain. Apart from never having been out for longer than a week or so, we were ready.
As I deadbolted the front door, we said goodbye to my house and laughed nervously. This was it! A light rain that turned into a downpour fell down on us as we cruised down 24 toward the mountains. By the time we reached Twin Lakes, the sun was shining and the air was 63 degrees. A full rainbow stretched across our campsite, and the view of the lakes was truly jaw-dropping. This could be the prettiest campsite we’ve ever had, Ryan noted – and to think, this is just the start!
Our first day out was ideal. We woke up to sunlight rippling on Twin Lakes and the skies clear. Ryan made coffee first thing and we didn’t even need to fire up Starlink, the service strong enough for a hot spot. Our dear friend, Zach, had caravanned out with us, and he patiently waited as we worked through the morning. For a lunch break, we checked out Interlaken, a ghost town on the opposite side of the lakes. Back in the day, Interlaken was a rustic getaway for the wealthy – not exactly comparable to the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, but it had a variety of recreational activities, high-class cabins, and full meals for its guests. The trail to and from Interlaken was lovely and rolling, though the bugs at the ghost town itself was enough for us to trail run back, rather than hike. Once back at camp, we finished up work for the day while snacking.
When I woke up on Thursday, an idea had popped into my head. I texted Ryan and Zach, “Would y’all wanna low key / high key hike a 14er on Saturday?” (with the side eyes emoji, of course). Both of them were in – we just hadn’t determine which one we’d tackle. Now it was Friday midday, and we still hadn’t chosen. Mt. Harvard was out since Ryan had already done it. Elbert was out since I had already done it. Zach was just happy to be there. Ultimately, we chose to do Mt. Belford and Mt. Oxford, a 12.5-mile round trip hike. Zach is a super strong hiker, having already hiked Almagre in Colorado Springs (14 miles, 5,000 feet of elevation gain) just earlier this week, so we knew he’d totally be fine. Ryan and I had mild trepidation, wondering if we could keep up with him and his endless stoke. We didn’t dwell on it, though – we had an afternoon to kill, so why not spend it in Leadville?
It had been nearly 4 years since I’d properly walked around Leadville, and 8 years since I’d been to High Mountain Pies. But I wanted to do both. We got to town around 4 and explored all the outdoorsy shops, then hit the pizza place to catch an early dinner. The pizza was as good as I remembered it, but you would’ve thought we were eating pizza sent from another planet, the way Zach and Ryan were raving. It was really good. It had pulled pork and green chile and cotija cheese and avocado. Come on.
We figured we may as well top off the night with ice cream, since we were hiking 12 miles the next day, so we all grabbed a cone before heading back to camp. It was only 6:30 p.m., but we were going to wake up at 3 a.m. for the hike. We managed to kill time until 8 p.m., when Zach declared he was going to sleep. We made it another 45 minutes, watching Prehistoric Planet, before we also passed out.
When the alarm went off at 3, Ryan chuckled and asked, “How ya feeling?” “A little nervous, to be honest,” I replied. But we were going regardless.
A quick French press of coffee and we were on our way by 3:30, at the trailhead by 4. The first two miles of the trail were steep, and Zach was keeping a brisk but manageable pace. We finally made it through the trees when the first glimpse was coming over the horizon. The sunrise proper continued as we made our way through the last mile of Belford, a steep series of switchbacks that had us sucking wind. We were at the top around 6:15.
We didn’t linger for long, and we actually jogged much of the saddle over to Oxford, until the grade got too steep. It felt like something out of Lord of the Rings, us prancing around at 14,000 feet. Once atop Oxford, we snacked and stretched and took it all in for a bit. The return up Belford was brutal but short-lived, and the rest of the way down was a meandering, chill grade that we hike-jogged. In the end, we did the whole thing in 6 hours.
On the drive back to camp, we cold plunged in the Arkansas River to soak our feet, then proceeded to eat and sip beer for a solid hour and a half. At some point we collectively agreed to take a nap. Three hours later, I awoke from what felt like a coma. All I remember is Ryan and I both climbing in the rooftop tent, barely reading five pages of our books, and passing out.
At this point it was unclear what we should do. Zach elected to head back to the Springs to have all of Sunday to recharge, so we figured we’d relax in Twin Lakes for the rest of the evening. But it didn’t make a ton of sense. We needed to drive over Independence Pass to Basalt, where I have family friends, Ann and Jim. I had mistakenly left my raincoat at their house when I ran a race in Aspen two weeks prior, and judging by all the rain we’d gotten over the weekend, it was pretty essential. Plus, we were headed to Vail afterward to see Ryan’s cousins in town after. It would just be a lot of driving, and I sat there wondering what to do. Then my phone rang.
It was my college friend, Amaury. Amaury is an entrepreneurial Frenchman with a flair for fashion and a penchant for shenanigans. He currently lives in Basalt, so I had told him we’d be passing through.
Amaury: “Hello? Slaico? Where are you?”
Me: “I’m in Twin Lakes, Amaury.”
“Well come here! You can crash at my place!”
“Let me check in with Ryan.”
“Hey Ryan, we can crash at Amaury’s.”
Ryan: “Pack up the car, we’re going.”
We arrived in Aspen an hour and a half later, at a insanely beautiful house. There, Amaury was hanging out with two other college classmates, Will and Chase, Will’s girlfriend, Caroline, and Will’s business partner, also named Will. The whole scene seemed so improbable. Will and Amaury had previously worked together doing all the merchandising for the show Narcos. They had since separated to do different schemes, but Will’s latest is working with business-partner Will on a new sunscreen – zinc-based, so it’s safe in reefs, but drier and smoother on skin, so it doesn’t make you look ghostly nor break out. They showed us the creative concepts they’d developed, and they were impressive. We spent the evening in downtown Aspen learning about the brand, hearing stories of how Amaury managed to get photographed with Kanye multiple times, and climbing on things we weren’t supposed to (a classic Colorado College move). Even more CC, we went out dancing in sweats, surrounded by people in designer clothes. This was certainly not the evening I imagined in the slightest, but I am so glad it happened.
We woke up the next morning in sleeping bags on Amaury’s floor, nestled in between the beams of his standing desk. We rallied pretty quickly over to Ann’s, where we retrieved my jacket and caught up over coffee, before making moves to Redstone. There, we met Ryan’s high school friend Andrew to boulder a bit. We got on just a couple problems that were high-quality and challenging, before departing toward Vail to meet the fam. But not before stopping at Sweet Coloradough, our favorite donut shop located in Glenwood Springs.
There’s an employee at SC who’s always cracking jokes that entertain us – mostly because they go over people’s heads. For instance, today he asked a couple ladies, “How many donuts for you gals?” “We’ll have three.” “Three dozen donuts?” “Oh no! Just three.” “Three hundred donuts, got it.” I asked him his name, and it’s “Aaron with two As.” Another employee had already rung us up and given us our donuts (a cinnamon sugar cronut and a blueberry fritter), but he paused – “Did she give you a free donut?” “No,” I answered sheepishly. He gestured for the bag, added another donut, handed us two stickers, and proceeded to give us some road trip recs. People like that always make my day.
We arrived in Vail around mid-afternoon and walked around the farmer’s market until we met up with Ryan’s cousins, aunt, and uncle. We had a lovely time catching up with them, grabbing dinner, hitting the hot tub at their hotel, and playing Pictionary. We had originally planned to leave for Steamboat Springs/Wyoming that afternoon, but the family time felt more important. So we spent the night in Vail. After all, we have no fixed timeline or agenda – and why not also take the opportunity to shower and sleep in a real bed while we can?
Heading north today! Send us your recommendations as we make moves toward the Tetons. 🙂