2021 Denver Trip
It’s been a few years since I’ve visited this log, and there have certainly been a few things in the interim that might have been worth documenting. A new job, a handful of vacations, a global pandemic… but I’m here now feeling strangely compelled to document a recent trip.
This Independence Day weekend I flew to Denver, Colorado to visit my friend Bianca. I also visited back in December, a low-key trip as COVID-related closures prevented us from doing much. I flew out Thursday evening, which was slightly eventful in itself as my Southwest Airlines flight from MSY to DEN was cancelled that morning. I immediately booked a United flight set to leave a couple hours earlier. Dad took me to the airport around two. My new flight was later delayed nearly two hours because the Denver airport was restricting how many planes could land each hour due to weather. I spent a couple hours and almost $50 at MSY’s Ye Olde College Inn bar, chatting with the bartender, and other flyers waiting out delays. Among others, I had a pleasant chat with a young lady about to enter Loyola Law School, where I used to work.
After landing in Denver, we had to wait a little while longer for a gate to open up. I finally met up with Bianca almost an hour after we landed. It was basically bedtime by the time we got to her house so we didn’t do anything that evening.
On Friday morning, Bianca and I went to Waterworld, a huge water park a few minutes from her home in Westminster. We arrived almost 30 minutes before the gates opened to ensure we could buy a “tube valet,” which allows you to bypass certain lines and saves you the hassle of hauling the big tubes to the top of their larger rides. We spent the whole day at the park, from open to close at 6 PM. We tried rode of the rides, swam in the wave pool, and finished the day on their 1,000-foot lazy river. It was a really fun day, and I largely avoided sun burns with the glaring exception of the top of my head. I should have made the effort to hang on to my hat through the whole day. We had more than enough to eat at the park so that was our lone stop for the day. Bianca spent the better part of the evening conditioning her hair.
We were up early again on Saturday to head to the Earth Treks indoor climbing gym in Englewood. We attended a 9:00 AM yoga class, a first for both of us. It was more a challenge for me than Bianca, who is in excellent shape. It was a good workout, though. After the hour-long class we relaxed while we waited for one of Bianca’s climbing friends to join us. Oogii, a native of Mongolia and veteran hiker, arrived around 11. They do what’s called “top rope climbing,” where the climber is attached to a rope looped around an anchor at the top of the wall and a companion acts as the “belayer,” taking up slack in the rope as the climber ascends so they don’t fall to the ground should they lose grip with the wall. I watched Bianca and Oogii take turns more often than not, as there’s a certification involved in belaying at this gym which I’ve not done. Both of them seem reasonably skilled even though they’ve only been climbing for a few months. I quite enjoyed my handful of climbs on gradually more difficult paths, but I only reached the top on half of them. I just don’t have the arm strength to do it properly for any length of time. By around 1:30 we were climbed out and headed home.
Later that afternoon, my middle school friend Mike drove up from Colorado Springs. We reconnected on Facebook several years ago and this was the second or third time I’ve had the chance to see him on my visits to Denver. The three of us went to dinner at a nearby restaurant called Thai House. I had the pad thai. Bianca and Mike had other noodle dishes. Bianca also ordered a surplus dish for the table, which became a theme on this trip. After dinner she drove us to this cookie place in Thornton called Crumbl. She’s a big fan of this chain. There have been several times over the years we’ve spoken on the phone while she was driving to or from one of their locations. In fairness, their cookies are very good, and very big. We ordered one of each flavor they make and took them home. That evening we all watched a movie, Chaos Walking, and sat around talking for a few hours, planning a camping trip we intend to go on next July. Bianca has been camping a couple times and did a little show-and-tell with all of her backpacks and gear. That went on a bit later into the evening than we might have expected to Mike stayed the night.
Sunday, the fourth of July, was the most relaxed day of the trip… aside from all the fireworks going off outside that evening. Bianca took Mike and I to brunch at The Delectable Egg in Westminster. I had the steak and eggs, and also tried the pancakes and stuffed French toast Bianca ordered “for the table.” The food was solid and the place seems pretty popular. We did have to wait a bit to be seated. Mike left to head home shortly after we returned to Bianca’s house. We were home for the rest of the day, I spent some of the afternoon lounging outside with Bianca’s roommate Melanie. Bianca and I took her dog Kyle for a walk later on. Towards the end of our walk, we came across a beautiful white husky that appeared lost. Bianca unleashed Kyle and had me carry him while she leashed out new friend, who had a collar but no tags. As we neared her street, his owner pulled up in a car. He’d obviously been a rush to look for his dog as he wasn’t wearing shoes or a shirt, but was grateful we located his companion. At some point that evening we watched a movie, The Tomorrow War. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a less creative use of time travel in a film.
Monday was the highlight of the trip. Bianca and I were up early again to drive to Idaho Springs, about 30 miles west of Denver. We were there for a zip-lining and whitewater rafting excursions, both firsts for each of us. Bianca picked a company called AVA, which offers a combo deal where you do both the same day. Zip-lining was first at 8:00 AM. Our guides Merlin and Randi first outfitted all eight of our tour group with the necessary gear. There was a harness, much like the one I wore for the rock climbing, a plastic helmet, the trolley which connects your harness and the zip-lines, a pair of leather gloves, and a leather hand brake strap that goes over the right hand glove, used to press on the line to slow down without damaging your hand. The lot of us then got in the back of a pickup truck to ride up most of the way to the first platform, at the top of a cliff immediately adjacent to the outpost below. Our guide Merlin was the first to ride after a safety demonstration. A guide went first on each line so someone would be there to ‘catch’ us when we got to the end. Bianca and I ended up going last on the first couple lines, though not out of any reluctance. The experience was a bit odd and kind of exciting. I don’t have a fear of heights but there’s still some thrill to being suspended in mid-air, even with two cables on each line and multiple backups to the trolley linkage. Each of my starts was a bit anti-climactic as I didn’t quickly accelerate forward when I sat on the harness and lifted my legs off the platforms. That was most regrettable on the fifth of six lines, a tandem line where you can race a companion. I got off to a terrible start. Bianca was almost halfway home before I got my start, but I almost caught all the way up to the end platform. The last line took us over a creek at ground level, right behind the outpost.
With the zip-lining finished we had about 45 minutes to kill before our 11:30 rafting excursion, but we elected not to bother getting lunch just yet. Bianca cooked me an ample breakfast that morning. Eventually we joined the sizable group of folks going rafting that afternoon, perhaps three or four dozen people. We were issued lifejackets, helmets, paddles, and wetsuits. The water of Clear Creek is pretty cold as its comprised of recently melted snow. After a safety briefing, we were given our group assignments, six to a raft, and walked down the road to the boat launch. Our company looked to have eight boats there, along with those of other tour companies. Our rafting companions, two couples, picked one of the rafts and our guide, Annie. Bianca bravely volunteered to take one of the front seats and ultimately got several good splashes in her face. I was not that brave and elected to sit right behind her. Getting underway was relatively effortless. Not long after we were on the move, Annie had me and the lady beside me switch seats to even out the boat. That put all the guys and the left and gals on the right. That turned out to be better as Bianca and I could now see each other’s faces during the trip.
The hour-long ride was not as stressful or arduous as I expected. Annie and the current did most of the work. Only occasionally did she direct us to paddle one way or the other. Our course was a “class III” rapid, which are rated on a 1-5 scale. I learned the difficulty also depends on the current at any given time, and being a bit later in the season, a lot of the snow melt had already happened so the water flow wasn’t as dramatic as it might have been a month or two earlier. That did mean there were a few more rocks to worry about, however. I was surprised how shallow the water was in most places. I presume we were wearing lifejackets mostly because the water moves too fast to safely stand up in it. There were a handful of drops and moments of excitement as we crossed through a few rapids, but for the most part we just cruised along the water. For a first-time experience, I thought it was a perfectly adequate level of difficulty. It did take me about 15-20 minutes to gain some confidence. We were all seated on the outer tube of the raft rather than the ones in the middle. I was initially nervous about possibly falling out of the boat and sat on the inside edge of the tube, which was very uncomfortable. I had a better time once I was seated on the middle on top of the tube. It also helped that our guide Annie was very chill.
Even chillier was the water. It couldn’t have been warmer than 40 degrees and was very “refreshing” each time we got splashed. This was my first time wearing a wetsuit, which was partially effective in shielding me from the cold. Most of the guides were not wearing them. I presume they’re more acclimated to the cold water or just not worried about falling overboard. Luckily nobody in our convoy did. Once we reached the end of the course, Annie parked our boat on a shore across from the landing while we waited for the rest of the convoy to catch up. Our raft led the way for the better part of the ride. Once they all caught up, we paddled across the creek and pulled the boat out of the water. Eventually, a school bus towing a trailer for the rafts and paddles picked us up for a 10-minute ride back to the outpost.
After returning our borrowed attire and changing into dry clothes, we were able to have a look at the photos the company took of our excursion. They had a photographer perched on a bridge near the first rapid. I look like someone in a splash mountain meme where one of the riders looks unimpressed. The zip-lining pictures were much the same, but I didn’t buy those.
Our adventure concluded, Bianca and I elected to have lunch in town at Tommyknocker Brewery. There was a half-hour wait for a table but it took Bianca so long to find a parking space that didn’t matter much. It started to rain while I waited so I was grateful Bianca elected to sign us up for the morning excursions. We ordered three appetizers “for the table” in addition to hamburgers for each of us, so there was again far more food than we needed. We each had one of the sodas they make and I tried a flight of four beers they brew on site. Later that evening after the drive home, we watched a couple movies, The Ice Road and Homefront. I also cooked a pot of red beans. That was something I intended to do for dinner one night but the timing didn’t work out so I just made it for them to have in the coming days. Unfortunately, I over-seasoned them and they tasted painfully salty.
Bianca had to work on Tuesday, my last day in Denver, so I was on my own that morning and afternoon. I took a ride downtown to the Denver Botanic Gardens. It’s a gorgeous and expansive facility with exceptionally well-maintained grounds. I walked through their enclosed Tropical Conservatory, which reminded me of home, and wandered the grounds for a couple hours. They also had a few small art exhibits on display, including 40 illustrations by Salvador Dali featuring FlorDalí and Surrealist Flowers.
Later in the afternoon I went to Denver Biscuit Company for lunch, on Bianca’s suggestion. I had their take on the BLT which involved the traditional ingredients and fried chicken sandwiched between a large biscuit. It was quite good, though attempting to eat it with my hands was a rookie mistake. From there I went to a nearby record store called Twist and Shout, and browsed their sizable collection for a while. I didn’t buy anything, and was back at Bianca’s house shortly after three. She was outside getting ready to walk Kyle when I pulled up, so I joined her on a stroll through the park near her house.
Bianca took me to the airport around five. We took the “scenic route” along East 96th Avenue to avoid congestion on the interstate. Again, like the trip up to Denver, I learned my flight was delayed two hours after my arrival at the airport. This time they were waiting for some other delayed flights to arrive in Denver as they didn’t want to leave behind connecting Southwest passengers hoping to board the last flight to New Orleans that evening. I parked myself on a stool at Tapas Sky Bar in spitting distance of the gate for a few beers and the spinach & artichoke dip. Being that close wasn’t entirely helpful, though, as I obviously wasn’t paying attention because boarding was practically finished before I walked up to the gate. It was a minor miracle I found an open window seat near the front of the plane. We did continue to sit for a while, as we waited for a few more passengers to arrive. The flight itself was uneventful and we arrived at an empty MSY around midnight.