We made it to Colorado with big plans and limited time. For a couple who has grown up active outdoors-enthusiasts on the east coast, Colorado has always been touted as the promised land: immense mountains for skiing and hiking, warm sun, mild winters, the REI flagship store…what more could you want? We have many friends who have resettled to Colorado and so part of the agenda was to visit them along the way. We also needed to make a stop at Rocky Mountain Westy to address our van’s saggy suspension.
By the time we hit the border we had already made the decision to change the course of our travels and head north to Canada after Colorado which put a bit more of a pinch on our time here.
Coming from Wyoming we hit Fort Collins on a Saturday morning and decided to stay a few days to be able to stop in to see Rocky Mountain Westy on Monday. We figured a few days would be enough time to see the city and Rocky Mountain National Park, just to the west, so we made plans to meet up with some old neighbors near Boulder a few days later.
On a tip from a local, we headed up the Poudre Canyon, north of town, to look for a dispersed camping spot to set up for the night. At this time of year the Poudre river runs orange and swollen down from the Rocky Mountains to the west and cuts a deep and winding canyon through the mountains. From our first drive up the canyon road to the last time we left it, we both drove the road bug-eyed and slack-jawed, leaning precariously out the windows of the van to take in every curve and cliff wall along the road. It’s a sight to see at any time, but for us it was a perfect welcome to Colorado: raw and ragged, but beckoning you to dip your toes in the water and climb the mountains rising out of the river.
We followed the river for several miles up the canyon before crossing and taking a gravel road into the national forest to find a site for the night. The sheer number and beauty of the campsites was astounding. Colorado is chalk full of dispersed camping areas on national forest land that rival any sites in the National Parks for beauty - as long as you don’t mind driving up tooth-rattling forest roads to find them.
Sunday afternoon, while exploring the city, we stopped at the City park to make lunch and spotted an old Toyota pick-up with a tent on the back and a veritable yard-sale of camping and off-road gear laid out next to it. The front of the truck was up on a farm jack and the driver was changing out the brake pads in the shade at the public park. These were travelers like us.
We pulled in next to the truck, offered up our jack stand, and started talking with the couple. They were teachers from New Orleans, out for the summer with their 2 year old daughter and Great Dane, Longfellow. In shade of the large park trees, we swapped stories of past trips, planned itineraries, and fabled off-road trails. In the course of the conversation, we discovered that we had both weathered Hurricane Arthur in tents on the Maine coast a few years ago, only a handful of miles apart. With the brakes done, we said our goodbyes and headed back up the canyon to find an afternoon hike before making camp.
A few days later, driving through Estes Park, looking for a spot to stop and let the van cool off after the climb up the mountains, we spotted a familiar pickup truck and tent and pulled into the parking lot to find our new found friends again, stopped for a bathroom break. We swapped phone numbers, intending to stay in touch and swap camping spots. Over the next few days we exchanged texts, hoping to catch up but our schedule visiting friends dictated that we move faster than they, and we ended up missing them by only a day, several times. Even on the road, we were still holding ourselves to a tight schedule.
Days later, in Buena Vista, CO, we once again stumbled on a set of travelers and struck up a conversation. As we pulled into a free campground outside the town, we spotted a beautiful blue Westfalia set up with an open spot next to it. As we talked with the couple, we had a moment of déjà vu as we realized that we had a lot in common with them, but had committed to visit friends 80 mile away the next evening. This time we vowed to do things differently. This couple was semi-permanent in Buena Vista and ran a small business in town. We decided to visit our friends in Woodland Park, but then come back to Buena Vista to spend some unplanned time with this couple before heading back north to keep our appointment with Rocky Mountain Westy. This has turned out to be one of the best decisions of our trip. By fully letting go of our schedule, we have been able to embrace new opportunities that we would certainly not have found otherwise.
Our time in Buena Vista has found us with new friends, new inspirations, a fourteen-thousand-foot peak under our belts that we would otherwise never have found, and work over the Fourth of July after our new friends decided they needed help to handle the onslaught of visitors to Buena Vista. We discovered hidden gems in the Colorado deserts and mountains, but also polished the gems of a new and surprisingly deep friendship with Chis and Krista. They, like us, have chosen to question some of the conventional wisdom of the American Dream and leave the beaten path to look for adventure and home out of their van.
There is richness in the planned times of life and the structured times of connections, but there are other deep rivers of richness in the unplanned and the chance meetings.
For so long we have been damming the river of time. Hoping to extract from it all the resources and energy we can. We have scheduled our time out months in advance, and packed every spare moment full of richness and intention, but also hurry and stress. When the river began to erode the banks we fortified them with the rocks and concrete of calendars and planners and structure and alarm clocks and early bedtimes so we could hit the ground running in the morning. Our lives were efficient and extremely full.
We are working to undam the river and let time take its course. We sacrifice some of the efficiency, but are allowing space for the river to find new tributaries and wildlife.
Allowing time to take its course and find the richness in what comes your way takes practice. As modern humans we are always seeking to make order and find structure. For most of us it doesn’t come naturally to have a day with no plans, but being able to engage deeply in a chance conversation without needing to get on to the next item has been a wonderful skill to cultivate.