Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Diary of a Road Trip: Part Two - Rocky Mountain Highs and Lows

Clouds roll over the mountain tops just outside our campsite at Estes Park. (Photo by Lon Horwedel)

(The following is part two of a three-part series, detailing the unique perspective of a typical family vacation through the eyes of a somewhat demented, middle-aged father of three.)


8-21-10  Noon  Spent most of the morning in Iowa City – great town. My wife and daughters fell in love with it. My oldest daughter announced she was getting her souvenir (we told each kid they could get one souvenir on the trip) – a $60 backpack from the campus bookstore.

“Why the hell do you want to get a backpack as a souvenir?” I asked.

“So I have something to put the rest of my souvenirs in!” She replied.

So much for the one souvenir rule.

8-21-10 2:36 p.m.  Just stopped at a little town outside of Des Moines called Van Meter – it’s the birthplace of Cleveland Indian Hall-of-Fame pitcher Bob Feller – the “Heater from Van Meter” as he was known. As luck would have it, they have a Bob Feller Museum. I thought it was awesome. So did my wife and kids. I’m not sure who abducted my family since we left Iowa City, but I’d like to shake their hand.

My son notes that Bob Feller was a first round pick! (Photo by Lon Horwedel)

8-21-10  4:08 p.m. We’re just now leaving Iowa for Nebraska, and I must say I really loved Iowa. It doesn’t get enough press for how beautiful it is. Sure it’s mostly farms -but they’re really pretty farms! Rolling countryside, incredible patterns in the fields, subtle colors, huge windmills and The Bridges of Madison County! What else could you want? Cripes, if I ever learn how to grow corn, I might even move here.

Is this Heaven? No, it's Iowa. (Photo by Lon Horwedel)

8-21-10 4:50 p.m. I’m preparing myself for the worst, but so far Nebraska is nowhere near as bad as advertised. In fact, I kind of like it. It’s sort of like Iowa, only a hell of a lot flatter and with much straighter roads. Hell, I-80 is so straight, I’m pretty sure I don’t even need to steer. Let’s try it … HOLY CRAP, I’m doing 92 mph! … no wonder, my damn foot is asleep - I can’t even feel the gas pedal. Come to think of it, I can’t feel my right butt cheek either. Shit, my whole leg is asleep. Maybe I better steer until I can get up enough feeling in my foot to apply the brakes.

8-21-10 6:09 p.m. I woke up my wife and had her pull my right foot off the gas pedal. I thought she might drive for a while, but apparently Nebraska’s iron-flat, rail-straight I-80 was far too tactical and challenging for her to take over, so she asked if I could just use my left foot to work the gas and brake pedals until we stopped for the night.

8-21-10 6:12 p.m. After nearly killing my family on Nebraska’s iron-flat, rail-straight I-80 because I was driving with my left foot, we decided to stop for the night at a campground called Ft. Kearney State Park.

“How old is Ft. Kearney (I pronounced it KEERNEY) anyhow?” I asked the park ranger.

“You mean Ft. CARNEY?” She replied.



“Well, never mind that - is there any place around here to get some ice?”

“Yup, next town up the road.”

“Oh, you mean Minden (I pronounced it MINDEN)?”

“Naw, I mean MENDEN.”

Apparently normal pronunciation guides don’t apply in the state of Nebraska. Jokingly, I told her our drive from "O-MEE-HAW" was pretty uneventful.

She looked at me like I was retarded.

8-21-10 7:35 p.m.  We picked up some ice in MENDEN and now we are setting up camp here at Ft. CARNEY. I must say; this place really is nice. Long, plush grass to pitch the tent, a beautiful lake only 100-yards away, blue sky, a strong breeze, and best of all, no mosquitoes!

Looking out our tent door in beautiful Ft. Kearney, Nebraska. (Photo by Lon Horwedel)

8-21-10  8:30 p.m. Some old farmer and his wife stopped by our site. I asked him where he was from. He told me MENDEN. I asked him why they were camping so close to home. 

“Whaddaya mean?" He replied,  "MENDEN is a good seven-mile from CARNEY!"

I guess they don’t get out much.

8-21-10 8:45 p.m. I got the fire started … sort of. It wasn’t like a towering inferno or anything, but I thought it was pretty good. The old farmer must not have thought so though, because he just brought me over a huge jug of torch fuel.

“I noticed you was havin’ a bit of trouble with that fire son.” He said all-knowingly, before handing me the jug of torch fuel. 

“Here - dump a little of this on it - that should do the trick.” 

Then he winked at me and walked away.

I must admit; the torch fuel did indeed work pretty well - maybe too well.  Ah, what the hell, my son needed a haircut anyhow, and I’m pretty sure his eyebrows will grow back before school starts.

8-21-10 9:30 p.m. I just finished my dinner of a hot dog burnt so bad it looked like an oblong hockey puck. To make matters worse, I followed it with a flaming, molten-lava marshmallow that destroyed every taste bud on my tongue before searing itself permanently onto the roof of my mouth.

My stomach is killing me – I think I’ll go brush my teeth and go to bed.

8-21-10 9:42 p.m.  Judging by the amount of blood and pink, fleshy tissue I just spit into the sink, I’m not sure how my teeth are staying affixed to my gums. Oh well, I hear mouth wounds heal quickly -- even third degree burns! 

I should be able to eat solid food again in a month or two.

Wakey! Wakey! We're off to Colorado! (Photo by Lon Horwedel)


8-22-10  7:40 a.m.  Well, this is it, the big day - the last leg of our journey to Colorado, and apart from my extremely raw and blistered mouth, I feel pretty good!

8-22-10 11:34 a.m. We just crossed into Colorado. I have to say, the western half of Nebraska started getting a little hillier, but here in Colorado it’s flatter than a pancake and there aren’t any trees. To top it off, it’s raining again. My sister always brags about the 330 days of sunshine they get in Denver every year, I guess this is one of the 35 lousy days.

8-22-10 12.38 p.m.  Stopped to get gas in some podunk little town in the middle-of- nowhere-eastern-Colorado. When I opened the van door I almost dropped to my knees from the overpowering stench of cow shit. Odd, because I’ve only seen a stray longhorn here or there for the past 50-miles, grazing on land that looks more like the surface of the moon.

8-22-10  1:15 p.m. Wow! We just drove past the Greeley feed lot. Now I know where the stench came from. There must be 10,000 cattle crammed in that place with no room to graze and nothing to do but eat out of a trough and produce waste. The smell was so horrible, it penetrated our van even though the windows were rolled up and the air conditioning was on full blast. My daughters were so grossed out they vowed never to eat another hamburger for as long as they live.

8-22-10  1:29 p.m. Stopped at a McDonalds 15-miles outside of Greely. The girls both ordered quarter pounders with cheese - I guess they’ll go vegan later today.

8-22-10 2:46 p.m. Even though it’s raining pretty hard, I’m sure those are the Rocky Mountains looming on the horizon. My wife thinks I’m nuts. She says they’re just clouds.

8-22-10 3:30  We’re at the base of the mountains now. My wife still doesn’t believe it. I guess three and a half days in the van have made her delusional.

8-22-10 3:50 p.m. Now we’re halfway up the range. It’s pretty amazing - and very steep in places. My wife won’t even look out the window half the time. She’s totally freaking out. Just to really get her going, I drove off the edge of the road onto the shoulder gravel while she had her eyes closed. She didn’t find it nearly as funny as I did. She said I get to clean the piss out of her seat.

8-22-10 4:30 Wow, it took a whole hour to get from the base of the mountain to Estes Park. I’m not sure how we’re going to pitch a tent in this rain, but I guess we’re going to try. The lady at the campsite warned us to keep any food, or anything with a scent, locked in airtight containers and stored in the car to keep the bears away, even though they hadn't seen a bear at the campsite in a long time.

“How long is long?” I asked her.

“Oh, it’s been a good ten days now.” She answered.

My son’s eyes got as big as manhole covers - my wife pissed her pants again.

8-22-10 5:30  Amazingly, it quit raining as soon as the woman from the campsite showed us to our spot - A-30.

“So where do we put the tent?” I asked, noticing our entire lot was on a relatively steep 15% grade.

“Whaddaya mean?” She replied “The whole lot is yours, you just put it where you want.”

I soon found out they don’t call them the Rocky Mountains for nothing. Hard as I tried I couldn’t stake down our tent in several places. In fact, I turned three of the stakes into perfect, 90-degree angles while trying to pound them in the rocky terrain with a large rock - one of them ended up a dinner triangle!

“Remind me to camp in the ‘Soft-Fertile-Soil Mountains’ next year.” I told my wife as I struggled with both the tent, and my ability to oxygenate blood at 9,000 feet above sea level.

The lush, green grass, and soft, fertile soil of the Rocky Mountains! (photo by Lon Horwedel)

8-22-10 5:30 p.m.  One short hour later, the tent is secure … sort of. I had to put it under some pine trees because it was the only place I could successfully drive a stake in the ground. Unfortunately, one corner of our tent is firmly planted on top of a huge root, must be about 12” in diameter, but with the air mattress, we shouldn’t even notice. 

8-22-10 5:46 p.m.  My son just came back to the site looking pale as a ghost. I thought maybe he’d spotted a bear, but that wasn’t the case at all. He was at the playground swinging on the swing set and now he said he thinks he’s going to puke - our first official case of altitude sickness. That didn’t take long.

8-22-10 6:20 p.m. We left the campsite to go to my sister’s house in Broomfield for dinner. Not more than a quarter mile down the road we spotted a giant bull elk – huge rack, must have tipped the scales at 500 pounds or more. Somehow, the thought of elk roaming through our campsite seems less scary than black bears.

Now there is something you don't see everyday in Ann Arbor! (Photo by Lon Horwedel)

8-22-10  8:04 p.m. We just arrived at my sister’s house. Longer drive than we expected, especially considering it was all down hill. My wife’s nerves are officially shot for the day. The hairpin turns, lack of guardrails, and 9-hours spent in the car, have left her in ruins.

8-22-10 10:30 p.m. Had a great time at my sisters. The dinner was great, and it was nice to see her and her husband Peter. Peter is leaving for New Mexico in the morning, so my sister will be joining us at our campsite for the remainder of our stay. I never did get to toss in a load of laundry, but I did take advantage of her toilet!

Now it’s time to start our long ascent back to Estes Park – only this time in the dark. My family is placing their lives in my hands, but I told them not to worry because the darkness will prevent me from watching anything else but the road. They don't seem too convinced.

8-22-10 11:34 p.m. Somehow we made it back to our camp a good 20-minutes faster than the drive to my sister’s house. It’s cold up here – really cold! It can’t be more than 45 degrees and the wind is howling. My wife and kids skipped anything resembling oral hygiene and went right to bed. I can’t stand the thought of going to sleep with chunks of pork loin stuck in my teeth, so I’m walking up the hill to the bathroom in complete darkness hoping bears don’t like the smell of Crest toothpaste. There’s no one else at the campsite until this weekend, and I’m pretty sure my family already is fast asleep, so if I do get mauled, my corpse might well be sitting here till morning light – lessen, of course, some coyotes or other vermin show up and chow on my remains until there’s nothing left but dental records. 

Oh well, at least I'll have clean teeth!

(Stay tuned for the final segment: REDRUM!, Campfire Cooking 101, looking for gold in all the wrong places, and the heading-for-home blahs!)



  1. I don't think the Colorado Tourist Bureau will hire you any time soon, Lon, but I'm having a great time reading this! Thanks for the good start to the day. AND THE SUN IS OUT OVER PARIS!

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  3. This is great stuff, Lon. Love your sense of humor (as usual). Looking forward to Part III.