Our First Unexpected Challenge

August 15th, 2019 — the day that all of us had been waiting on for months…

We had gotten down to one vehicle, moved out of our leased place, put some sentimental items in storage along with a very small amount of furniture, and packed our bags.  We had a plan that we thought was perfect — take a month of time to drive from Lawrence, KS to Las Vegas, NV, where John’s folks live, before leaving the country. In that month’s time, we would take the opportunity to visit as many National Parks that we could and experience the wonderful outdoor life that all four of us love.

So after cramming all of our belongings into our car — a 15 year old Jaguar XJ8L (John’s dream car that we had purchased used 5 years before) — as well as in a roof-top bag (not only did we have everything that we were taking with us on our extended journey, but we also needed tents, sleeping bags, a cooler, warm weather gear — it gets cold in the mountains! — and backpacking gear), we said our last farewells to coworkers and friends and hit the road.  First stop: Estes Park, CO, right outside of Rocky Mountain National Park. Nine hours later, in the pitch blackness, we luckily stumbled upon a JellyStone Park campground outside of Estes Park and gratefully climbed into our tent.

The next morning found us travelling over the continental divide through the beautiful Rocky Mountain National Park to the west side of the park where we met up with one of John’s college running friends, Karen (coincidence of names!!) and her friend, Jim (more on Jim in later posts — he is a true outdoor man who has explored Colorado and Utah extensively and knows all of the places not on the map!).  We stayed in a private campground outside of Granby, CO with a family of ospreys right behind us (how incredible to watch them fly and bring fish back to the nest) as well as multiple hummingbirds (attracted to our campsite by Jim’s travelling feeder). We did a short day hike — warming up our legs and lungs (necessary due to the change in altitude) — around Monarch Lake in the Arapaho National Recreation Area with Karen and Jim.  

Brenna formed an almost immediate bond with one of our neighbor campers and the two girls were nearly inseparable.

On Sunday Karen and Jim departed and we went into town to restock on food (with the car as jam-packed as it was, a visit to the grocery store meant riding back to the campsite with food bags in our laps) and get on the internet for some work time.  We also scheduled our next stop — a train ride from Durango to Silverton, CO (rated as one of the top train rides in North America: https://www.durangotrain.com/) which we were all excited about.  John had unexpectedly ridden the train a couple of years ago after he experienced altitude sickness (the kind where you have no appetite, not the puking kind) while hiking on the Colorado Trail with Joel and because of the concern of not eating for four days and needed to get off of the mountain.  By pure chance, the train was a short hike away and offered a way out to safety. He wanted to share the area with the rest of us, so we purchased tickets for the steam train allowing us to get off in the middle, back-pack for a night, and then board again the next afternoon. Only one slight problem — we couldn’t get tickets until Wednesday, which left us with a day to kill.

Minutes after buying the tickets (yes, MINUTES!), our car started having major issues.  Oh NO! Not what we needed!! John was able to coax the car back to our campsite — it was Sunday, so nothing was open, then back into Granby the next morning.  Our visit to the repair shop was not hopeful. Initially, the computer showed 3000 things wrong with the car — a car that had been driving perfectly fine the previous day!  After a couple of minor adjustments, the mechanics advice was to drive to Denver (1.5 hours in the wrong direction) and get it properly repaired. We knew that if we headed that direction that we would definitely miss our train ride and rack up a nice repair bill.  It had been our plan to sell the car in Las Vegas, so we were reluctant to put too much money into a 15 year old car that we were intending to sell anyway. Plus, we really wanted to ride on that train!!

Thanks to John’s driving skill and confidence (I would have been stuck in Granby!!), we were able to make the 200 mile drive west to Grand Junction, CO.  However, we both quickly realized that there was no way that we were going to make the journey to Las Vegas in our car. How we made it as far as we did, I’m still not sure.  Our options at this point were to spend several days waiting for parts and repairs, or continue on with a rental car. We opted for the latter and John coaxed the car to the airport in Grand Junction.  We were able to rent a minivan (yes, my wonderful husband went from driving his dream car, a beautiful Jaguar, to driving a minivan — and never once said a negative word!) and proceeded to transfer all of our belongings from the car to our new wheels.  One great benefit to the minivan — so much more space!! No more standing in the doorway of the car, loading bags into a crammed rooftop carrier bag, jamming everything into an overstuffed trunk or riding with bags at our feet.

What  could have been a very negative turn in our trip ended up being a real positive because of our outlooks and because of an unexpected positive that happened next (read about it here)…

3 thoughts on “Our First Unexpected Challenge”

  1. Terri Durgan

    I am so happy you are exploring Colorado. Estes Park was a regular summer vacation in my childhood along with feeding cute, spunky chipmunks. Bob gave me the keys to a red minivan while our kids were young in Maine and we had amazing adventures in it. I wish that and more for you. Have fun, Brenna, nature is truly miraculous. Hugs!

  2. Tom Winters

    Karen – While I worked at PD/Pfizer in Ann Arbor, I used to attend the CU/Syntex symposium that occurred every other year. I would get a few other Pharma chemists together from other companies and we would do an afternoon sojourn to Estes Park. It was one of my favorite places. You guys are going to see a great many unique places on your journeys. I envy you. I lost my wife to cancer 2 and a half years ago – We had planed to spend the winters doing a Gypsy caravan in the south following our dogs in horseback field trials, then heading back to our Michigan home in the spring in a 30 foot horse trailer with living quarters. I hope to still do that in the not too distant future after retirement. (Hopefully 2 years from now). Sounds like you have a good plan and hopefully the skills needed to prevail when the unexpected occurs as it did in this instance. I look forward to reading more about your adventures.

    Tom

    1. Tom, so sorry to hear about your wife; that must have been so devastating. Hold on to that dream, though — it sounds like something you would really enjoy and clearly a lot of thought and planning went into it.

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