Monday, July 2, 2012

Colorful Colorado

Four months ago when Ryan's family suggested a vacation to Colorado, it seemed like a great idea.  Four months ago, it was a great idea.  Four months ago, the entire state wasn't on fire.

Since we were planning on heading to the Colorado Springs area, Ryan and I had been watching the news coverage of the fire on Sunday night when he got a call from his parents.  They were in Kansas at Aunt Michele & Ed's getting ready to drive to Colorado and meet us there on Monday night after our plane landed.  They called to let us know that our plans were "slightly" changing...the cabin we were supposed to stay in was not accessible due to the fires, but they had found another cabin in a neighboring town.  Okay, we're flexible.  Next came the detail that the road Ryan and I needed to get from the airport to the cabin had been closed, making what should have been a 15 minute drive a 2 and a half hour drive.  In the mountains.  At night.  During a wildfire.  We debated for several hours whether we would even go, and against our instincts decided that we would, and just get a hotel for the night 45 minutes from the airport on a well-paved 4 lane highway and meet up with the rest of the family the next day.

Monday, June 25th:

After a full day of work and some last minute packing, we made our way to the Quad Cities airport about an hour and a half from home to begin our journey.  Once we got to the airport, we both got really excited and were so happy that we decided to join the rest of the family in Colorado.  Here we are waiting for our first of two flights:

This is the only picture that you will see from Day 1, because somewhere around 15 minutes before our second flight, I became violently ill and spent the next 3 hours with my face in a barf bag and/or on the side of the road until we finally made it to the safety of a comfy bed, some 7Up, and a good night of rest.

Tuesday, June 26th:

Rested, no longer puking every 5 - 10 minutes, and still convinced that we could salvage this vacation, we explored our small town of Canon City and waited for the rest of the crew to get there. We had to entertain ourselves a bit longer than expected because the rest of the family called to let us know that they had taken the scenic (read: gravel on the side of a mountain) route and had gotten a flat tire.  They also used this conversation to let us know that our new cabin had no air conditioning during this week of record breaking Colorado heat, and that we would be sleeping on a couch and a futon.  Awesome.

A few hours later, they finally made it to where we were and we had a really fun afternoon eating Mexican food, riding a train to the Royal Gorge, and walking across the bridge:

Mama Sloan, Papa Sloan, Ryan, and I

Rachel, Aunt Michele, Noah, Uncle Ed

By 8pm that night, we were all pretty tired so we grabbed some dinner and headed back to the cabin and were all in bed by 10. 

Wednesday, June 27th:

After a warm, but otherwise good night's sleep, we all got around, had breakfast, and started planning our day.  We saw a fox and a deer, took some cute photos, and the boys mapped out the best route for us to take to Cripple Creek for a day at the Gold Mine & town:



Ryan and I had been watching the news coverage on the fire all morning and suggested that we pack our suitcases and load them in the cars just in case we had to leave in a hurry.  Laughed at and told how ridiculous we were being, we caved to the peer pressure and agreed to leave our belongings. Our first stop was to get me some caffeine, and then we made the gorgeous drive to Cripple Creek:

Once there, the rest of the family took a tour of the gold mine, while Mama (not a fan of enclosed spaces, like mine shafts) and I (not a fan of dirt) took ourselves to the Heritage Center where we learned about the town, the wildlife, and the dinosaur bones that had been found there:

After the tour was over, the family drove over to get us...and tell us that our cabin was under a mandatory evacuation and that we had to drive back immediately and pack up.  Nobody ever listens to the pretty ones :).  In a rush, we all piled in and made our way back to the cabin.  When we had left that morning, we could vaguely see some smoke on the other side of the mountain.  When we came back for our things a few hours later, this is what we saw:

Safe, packed, and thankful that only our vacation plans had been ruined as opposed to the hundreds of people who had to watch their homes burn to the ground, we made a plan to separate - Aunt Michele & crew to the hotel where Ed's work conference was, and us back to Canon City where Ryan & I had spent Monday night - and meet up again the next morning.  During our drive, we noticed some rain clouds moving in and were so excited for the relief that it might mean for the firefighters.  Until it hit.  On a mountain.  During an evacuation.

While I freaked out and prayed for what I was sure was the impending tornado to just kill me quickly, Ryan seamlessly navigated the storm, the traffic, the side of the mountain, and the conflicting directions he was getting from the backseat helpers.   He was amazing!

Two hours later, we were safe and sound in one of the last remaining hotel rooms in the area, and we set out for some dinner and a drive.  Not quite ready for bed yet, Ryan once again showed off his awesome driving skills and took us up Skyline Drive, a one-lane dirt path on the side of a mountain with some stunning views:

Thursday, June 28th:

This is the day that the vacation started to turn around for Ryan...he was about to go white water rafting with the family, sans myself and Mama again.  While the rest of the group was unnecessarily risking their lives, Mama and I hung out in the hotel and talked about the upcoming wedding, when Ryan and I would be giving them grandchildren, and various topics Aunt Jeanie had told her were on my blog.  Side note: this blog may or may not become private in the near future so as to keep my place as well-liked future daughter-in-law.

After their safe return and group lunch, we again split off from Aunt Michele and Noah for the evening.  The Sloans and I grabbed some dinner and a photo op:

Going for the trifecta in Amazing Driving Skills, Ryan drove us the back way to the Royal Gorge bridge.  While the bridge was closed, we did get to enjoy some spectacular views, and because no day on this trip would be complete without one, a near death experience when some wildlife decided to run across the road in front of us.  Ryan navigated us safely through the herd, and they were kind enough to hold still for a few minutes after jumping the fence so that we could get a photo:

Friday, June 29th:

This day was my kind of vacation!  While we would be moving into our 4th dwelling of the trip that evening, there was no evacuating, no nature, and no near death fiasco.  And there was a pool!  Aunt Michele invited us over to their luxury resort, rented a cabana, and let us relax all afternoon.  I tanned, I swam, and at one point I was even talked into going down the deceptively fast and scary water slide.  The boys went first so as to show me how easy it was:




(I'd like to point out that while I may have screamed my head off the whole way down, I managed to keep every hair on my head dry and in its rightful place!)

After drying off, Ed joined us while on a break in between meetings and we snapped a whole family photo, courtesy of our cabana boy, Vladislav.

And a Sloan family photo after dinner at the Broadmoor:

Saturday, June 30th:

Since everyone else drove to Colorado, they had to leave early Saturday morning, leaving Ryan and I by ourselves until Sunday night.  We said our goodbyes and set out for our weekend.  Did we share a romantic breakfast?  Go for a quiet drive?  Order room service and lounge in our pajamas all day?  Nope.  We went to the gym.  The gym with the broken air conditioner.  In 102* heat.  At 11 am.  And we did cardio.  In the gym with no air conditioning, right next to the window with the sun beating down on us.  Don't ever tell your fiance that you want to lose 10 lbs. before dress fitting.  He will somehow convince you that working out ON VACATION is a good idea.

Having preemptively worked off our lunch, we drove to downtown Colorado Springs and discovered what very well may be our new favorite restaurant on the face of the earth, PB & Jellies.  An entire restaurant based on gourmet homemade peanut butter and jelly combinations.  If Ryan hadn't already proposed to me, I may have been at risk of losing him to this place.  I had a "Go Bananas" (white chocolate peanut butter with bananas), and Ryan had a "Young Elvis" (Crunchy peanut butter, honey, bananas, and bacon).  And because that wasn't nearly enough calories for us, we split a peanut butter and jelly shake!  If you're ever in the area, this place is a MUST!

Having gluttonized to the best of our abilities, we headed to the Olympic Training Center to walk off some of that peanut butter goodness.  This is also a must see - they have a huge campus that you can spend hours on, a gift shop, and a free tour guided by one of the permanent resident athletes who live and train there.  Our guide was Jason, an Ohio State alum who is training in Fencing.  He said they train 3 - 4 times every day, and that he loses about 5 pounds of water weight per every 2 hour session.  We did not tell him about the peanut butter and jelly deliciousness that we had just consumed for fear that he would make us work out with him.  We did spend a couple of hours there, and worked off at least a few of those calories in the midst of our shenanigans:

Sunday, July 1st:

Our last day in Colorado started off with yet another morning work out (I feel like this should earn me some ice cream or something!), three attempts at re-packing our suitcases, and church at New Life.  What an awesome experience that was! We had a special treat and Kari Jobe was in town and helped lead worship.  The whole team did a fantastic job of balancing a Sunday morning service while addressing the fires, victims, firefighters, and talking about how to help.  They had already given away 2 semi loads of supplies and had 2 more on the way.  It was pretty incredible to see a church in action in the midst of a crisis, and I was so touched that I bawled through about half of the service. 

After church and lunch, Ryan hit the batting cages to get some practice in for our church league softball team.  He has pretty great form if I do say so myself!

We (okay, I) decided that it was too hot for miniature golf so instead we drove up the highway that had been closed until that afternoon to where our cabin was.  I was almost brought to tears again as we passed too many signs to count thanking the thousands of firefighters who had been working around the clock all week trying to save the towns.  Some were professionally done and some were hand made, but all were sincere.

Now safe and sound at home after an exhausting day of delayed flights that ended with Mike from American Pickers nearly smashing Ryan's toes with his luggage at Baggage Claim, we are thankful for our time in Colorado. While the fires somewhat messed up our vacation, we still managed to have a great time together with a lot of laughs, and we were very aware the whole time that hundreds of people no longer have homes, or were displaced for an unknown amount of time.  Many people were only given 30 minutes to get what they could before they had to flee.  We found several businesses around town that were accepting donations to go to the victims as they rebuild their lives, and we felt compelled to contribute.  If you do as well, please visit the Colorado Springs Red Cross website.  I'm sure any amount will be appreciated.

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