Ah, the Snow’s Comin’ Down on My Blue Manhattan

I’ve gotten attached to these Christmastime trips to the Big Apple. New York boasts a particularly impressive amount of holiday cheer per square foot, and it is starting to feel like a bit of a December ritual for me to visit and get a hearty dose of the Christmas spirit.

I didn’t buy my flight the first time I checked, which was a bad call. They jumped up soon after and it didn’t seem like they were going to come down again. I started to think I’d missed my chance, and then I got a flight alert for a much better price. My friend Lana and her husband invited me to stay with them, so my trip was a go!

I drove to NC a day before my trip as I usually do, and got to meet Kelli’s sweet new baby boy and hang out with Jimmy and Emily as long as we could all keep our eyes open. Emily woke up entirely too early in the morning just to drive me to the airport, which is above and beyond in the friend department.

Since it was frigid outside, my plane had to be de-iced before take-off. I am easily amused:

My flight was also late taking off, late landing, and therefore I was more than an hour late getting into Manhattan. That wouldn’t have been an issue if not for the fact that I was trying to catch the last tour of Gracie Mansion on the only day that they’re offered.

It does often happen that the city welcomes me full throttle, as if it’s checking to see that I still have what it takes after being away for a while. Luckily, I love a challenge, so I ran several long blocks in my boots with my bag on my shoulder and my suitcase rolling along behind me, and then I spotted an available cab rounding the corner, hailed him like a pro, and was about to hop in when a woman came walking toward me from halfway down the block, proclaiming that she was “here first” and therefore it was her cab. Oh no, honey. The cab drive promptly picked my side and I was on my way while she walked off to no doubt steal someone else’s cab.

I made it just in time for the tour and subsequently caught my breath strolling along by the river in Carl Schurz Park before hopping a bus back over to Lana’s to settle in.

I was excited to be able to attend the tree lighting in Washington Square Park, since my previous trips were too early in December to see that tree with lights on it. I had a bit of time to kill before the lighting started, so I decided to go down to SoHo and then walk from there back to Washington Square Park.

Naturally, this was a convenient excuse to drop in on my favorite church.

On my walk back toward the Village, the sun was setting, so the sky looked gorgeous and I kept catching the occasional glimpse of WTC1 between buildings.

I was FREEZING by the time I got close to the park, and I was ravenous, too. I stopped into a The Half Pint bar, which was packed with NYU students, and had an amazing bowl of chicken chili that warmed me up nicely.

Two minutes back outside had my teeth chattering again, but I had my heart set on the tree lighting, so I stuck around the park and waited for the other brave, Christmas-loving souls undeterred by the frigid temperatures to join me.

We were a small but merry bunch, huddled together with our chorus books, keeping warm by singing everything from O Holy Night to The Twelve Days of Christmas. We sang for about an hour and then the crowd dispersed and I became suddenly aware that I couldn’t feel my toes.

I had bought a ticket to go on the “Christmas Lights and Cannoli Tour,” and I still had an hour before it started, so I pretended to shop in a Duane Reade along the walk until I regained feeling in all of my appendages. The cruel cold made me feel even better about my ticket to ride around on a charter bus for three hours.

Lana had schlepped it out to Brooklyn with me on my first December trip and we walked around Dyker Heights, famous for its audacious Christmas displays all over the neighborhood. The bus tour covered that ground as well as the Bay Ridge area, and as a further bonus, we were transported around on a heated bus and got out for short neighborhood walks in the best sections.

I was happy to find that Brooklyn still had a coating of snow, which really took the Christmas scene up a notch. We went to several new areas as well as some I’d seen before, but hearing all of the ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ from the fellow tourists provided the perfect ambience for the cheeseball experience I had hoped for when I bought the ticket.

After visiting the two neighborhoods, we made a third stop just to see this specific house, which looked like an arcade game – a Christmas-themed arcade game!

After we’d seen all the Christmas lights, as promised, we were taken to a bakery where cannoli and hot chocolate had been set out for us in a private room in anticipation of our arrival. It was a delicious night cap before we boarded the bus one last time and returned to Manhattan.

2013 was the Centennial for Grand Central Station, so that coupled with the frosty air made it a great time to finally take the official tour. It was interesting to see places in the building that I probably never would have wandered on my own and to hear the story of the at-odds partners responsible for the building and then its eventual restoration after having fallen into disrepair.

After finishing the tour and grabbing lunch at the new Shake Shack in the basement, I made my way over to the New York Public Library to check out their tree…

…and then over to Bryant Park, which is a fun spot all year round, but particularly bustling once the Christmas shops, huge tree, and ice rink move in for the season.

I hopped on a bus downtown to meet Lana after work, and she said she’d go wherever I wanted, so we hopped a train down to the South Street Seaport. She doesn’t go there often and had never seen it decked out for Christmas. The extensive damage from Hurricane Sandy prevented them from having their tree in 2012, so I was excited to see it again, because it is my favorite.

I was a little disheartened that it wasn’t “singing” like it had been when I first fell in love with its tacky splendor, but it was nice to see it back in its rightful place.

From there, Lana took me down to Fraunces Tavern, the site where George Washington gave his farewell address to the Continental Army officers in 1783.

We found two chairs by the fire and kicked back for a while, and then decided to go back to the apartment and order in dinner. Conveniently, we sat down to eat 5 minutes before White Collar came on, and Lana and Colin let me rule the TV for an hour, after which Lana gave me the grand tour through their wedding album and we enjoyed a lovely night in by the glow of their Christmas tree.

On these December trips, I am mostly content to revisit all of my favorite haunts and see them decked out in tinsel and lights, but I usually see at least one new place on every trip, so I set off to find the gazebo from the White Collar season 4 finale. It looked cool on film and didn’t disappoint in person, either. I even climbed up on a rock beside the gazebo to get a better view and ended up sitting there for a while gleaning as much heat as I could from the sun glaring overhead.

I walked along the High Line in the afternoon, which was much less crowded than it had been the first time I toured it in the summer of 2012.

I disembarked to walk through Chelsea Market – and to thaw out again.

I will always be a sucker for a fountain, but a color-changing fountain?! Love them.

I walked from Chelsea to the Village, which is a great stroll to soak in the city. I did pause to photograph the Gansevoort as I walked past. I’d like to stay there someday.

I had dinner at Bleecker Street Pizza (heralded by many as the best pizza in New York) and picked up my ticket for the play I was seeing: Buyer & Cellar. I still had over an hour before the show started, so I walked around the neighborhood some more and then went to another restaurant (A.O.C., l’Ail ou la Cuisse) for dessert which was recommended to me by the ladies at the box office. I had the chocolate mousse and it was divine.

Buyer & Cellar was a one-man show starring Michael Urie (best known for TV roles on Ugly Betty and Partners, but best known to me for his role in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, which is my favorite Broadway show). The show was hysterical, but came with those unexpectedly touching moments that you find in the best comedies.

I hung out after the show was over to say hello to Michael, and he was delightful. I told him that we had a friend in common – Michael Park, who he worked with on How to Succeed. I agreed to pass along his “hello” and then we said goodnight. I struck up a conversation with a stranger on my way back to the subway station; she spotted the signed Playbill in my hand and I recommended the show to her.

Not quite ready to call it a night, I hopped off the train near Radio City and walked over to Rockefeller Center to see the tree and the Saks 5th Avenue Projection Show. My trip couldn’t be complete without that!

I was supposed to fly back to North Carolina on Saturday afternoon to go to the Grahams’ Annual Christmas Party, so I was going to have brunch with Colin and Lana and then head to the airport. When I woke up, though, snow was pouring down outside, so while the rest of the house was still sleeping, I raced outside into the snow.

I thought the best place to go would be the park, so I returned to the gazebo again.

Then I hopped a bus across the park to see Lincoln Center. It amused me that it was snowing, yet their fountain was on.

Lana texted to say they were readying for brunch, so I made my way back. While waiting for the bus, I talked with an older lady who told me how much she loved the snow, and said she grew up in one of the snowiest countries in the world, and had once crawled out of her second-story window onto snow. She took this photo of me.

Lana, Colin, and I took a snowy, slippery walk to brunch and I was starting to worry about my flight. It was still showing as “on time” and it was nearing time for me to leave for the airport, but it didn’t seem at all likely that my flight was really going to leave – on time or otherwise. My nerves were definitely showing, so Lana encouraged me to call the airline and see what they said. I did, and was told that my flight was still scheduled on time, but that they’d switch me to the next day for free. I kept second-guessing decisions either way, thinking I’d feel foolish if my flight really did leave on time, but knowing I did NOT want to be stuck at JFK overnight. The least stressful decision was to take the postponement, so I did, and a weight was lifted, but I continued to check my flight status for the rest of the day as it was delayed, delayed, delayed, boarded, disembarked, and then cancelled. I’m SO grateful that I was staying with friends so I didn’t have to worry about another night of hotel, and that Colin and Lana collectively talked me down from the crazy cliff so I could just relax and enjoy that I had more time in snowy New York.

Having embraced the notion, I decided to go over to Brooklyn and walk around the park. It was so peaceful.

It seemed like an opportune moment to finally ride Jane’s Carousel, built in 1922 and restored to its original condition in 1984. It was great fun and OF COURSE I let the operator take my photo. My horse held my hat – technically Lana’s hat.

Thinking of what other places I wanted to see in the snow took me back over to Bryant Park, which looks like a Winter Wonderland in December even if it’s 60 degrees. In the snow, it was just that much better. And I found another person to take a photo for me – even though all of these furry hat pictures are hilarious and you may or may not be able to tell it is even me in there.

By this time, it was after 5pm, so I knew that Grand Central would have its holiday light show going, which I had never seen. Plus, I was pretty well soaked by this point, so it was getting harder and harder to stay outside for long.

Santa Con was that weekend – which I didn’t even know was a thing until Lana mentioned it as the explanation to why we saw two Santas carrying cases of beer down the street on the Upper East Side. After that, I saw them everywhere. Apparently, Santa takes the subway when his sled is in the shop. I even saw several women participating in Santa Con, but their Santas had mostly abandoned the red suit in favor of the red light. This guy was a Santa Con underachiever, but I had to stop him to get a photo of his shirt.

Apparently, owing to the Santas transporting cases of beer and/or Santa-hookers, there was concern that these Con participants might get unruly on the trains.

When I left Grand Central, I realized that I could also see the light show from outside.

A hot shower and dry clothes were beckoning to me, but there was one last place I couldn’t miss seeing in the snow:

I stayed up just long enough to say goodnight to Lana and Colin when they came in from their Christmas party, and then quietly slipped out in the early morning to make it to the airport. I breezed through security (unusual for JFK) and breakfasted with a guy who had slept in the airport the night before after arriving on an overseas flight to find his connection cancelled. He was one of the least miserable-looking people at the airport that morning, so I counted myself blessed to have traded up from a day stuck at the airport to a day playing in the snow.

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You Will Get a Sentimental Feeling When You Hear Voices Singing

The 8-hour drive to Nashville always seemed a bit of a daunting task for my old car, and flying between there and home is impractical, so when I bought my new car, Music City started calling. The clincher was that some of my favorite people were packing up their Nashville home to take to the road in an RV, and I wanted to visit them again in a home without wheels while I had the chance. And, since they already had the RV, it made for great guest quarters!

My friend Melissa had mentioned wanting to go to Nashville a few times, so I offered her the official “shotgun” position on the trip, and we hit the road the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

I told her I had a surprise planned for the drive out, which probably wouldn’t strike most people as thrilling, but we were elated to be reunited with our long-lost cheap Italian fast food friend:

Since it was Melissa’s first time in Nashville (fourth for me), I had promised her all the touristy highlights, but for our first evening in Nashville, she was happy to forgo touring the town to stay in and just hang out with the whole Weaver gang. It didn’t take any convincing since she loves children and the littlest Weavers happen to be two of the cutest kids ever.

Last time I was in Nashville, Levi and Heather invited me to come to church with them on Sunday, but I was making the drive back that day and had to get on the road early due to weather conditions back home. On this trip, Levi was filling in as the worship pastor at a nearby Cowboy Church, so we all went there Sunday morning. I have never received such a warm welcome visiting any other church, which is not a slight on other churches so much as it is high praise for those folks. We were heartily welcomed at the door when we arrived, and where many churches take a 30 second pause in the service to tell you to shake hands with the folks around you, they instead took a 15-minute break wherein everyone walked to the back of the room and spent time interacting over a buffet of breakfast-y bread items: bagels, muffins, pastries… there were even cupcakes. Giving me my choice of 87 kinds of bread is always a way to make me feel right at home, but so many of the congregation came over, eager to say hello to the new faces. Before we left, we were given hugs and gifts and invited to come back soon. If it didn’t mean an eight-hour drive, I certainly would.

After having lunch together at a great Mexican restaurant, Melissa and I were ready to get our “touring” underway. The first stop was Nashville’s Parthenon replica with the towering statue of Athena inside.

This griffin was just asking to be fist-bumped:

From there, we proceeded downtown and paid an arm and a leg to park so we could walk around. Luckily, it was a pretty nice night for it.

Melissa wanted to take in some live music, and Honky Tonk Row offers something different behind every door. We decided we also wanted a place to sit, so we ducked into Legends Corner where a band was just getting set up, so there wasn’t a crowd yet. The band was just playing country covers, but they stuck with mostly the older songs that I grew up with, so we had fun listening, singing along, and even making a few requests, which the band was happy to oblige. We actually stuck around for the whole set before heading back to the house.

Monday morning, I introduced Melissa to the wonders of the Pancake Pantry for breakfast. I had warned her that we’d have to wait a while to get in, but that it would be completely worthwhile. As it turned out, we were able to walk right in and be seated right away, which felt nothing short of miraculous.

Melissa had seen online that Nashville (the TV show) was supposed to be on location downtown on Monday, so we drove that way to see if we could locate the crew. They were nowhere to be seen, so we just proceeded back downtown so that we could tour The Ryman, which had been closed by the time we got there the day before. Not wanting to pay so much for parking for just a short span of time, we drove around for a while before finding metered parallel parking about 8 blocks from The Ryman.

We took the full tour – backstage and all, which was interesting even though I had already done it before.

We had just finished the tour when I had a sudden realization that, after driving around so long looking for a parking space, once we were parked, we hopped out and went on our way and never actually put any money in the parking meter! We shot out of The Ryman and started hoofing it back to the car at full speed. I was panicked while trying not to appear panicked, and Melissa, knowing this, was just quietly walking along and praying that the car would still be there when we arrived.

I was thrilled as soon as I caught the first glimpse of my car and knew that at least it had not been towed. I was utterly astonished when we got close enough to realize that it hadn’t even been ticketed. The meter was flashing “expired” and we’d been gone for about two hours, and somehow had gotten away scott free. Prayer works! And once my heart rate returned to normal, I felt somewhat vindicated for having overpaid for parking the night before.

Following that adventure, we made a second attempt at finding the filming spot for Nashville, and succeeded on the second try, but the location was indoors, so we couldn’t see anything. But, at least we could say that we tried.

We were going to proceed over to the Gaylord Opryland Hotel from there, but I accidentally picked the wrong address in the GPS, and having driven the wrong way, we decided to make the most of it and drop in on the Belmont Mansion.

When we got out of the car, we were immediately splattered with bird poop – or so we thought. Further investigation told us that it was likely something in the trees instead, and we agreed that was our preferred assumption and went with that.

Messy greeting aside, the grounds and house were lovely and we enjoyed our tour and even found some friendly Belmont students who stopped to take a picture for us.

Having enjoyed our accidental detour, we got back on track and made our way over to the Opryland Hotel and walked through the ICE! Exhibit. I had been to ICE! before with Levi and Heather when Lincoln was small, but it was cool enough to see again (no pun intended).

The highlights were the ice slide…

The “Christmas in New York” section (for me)…

And, of course, the gorgeous nativity scene in the final room.

The Gaylord Opryland Hotel is a tourist attraction unto itself, and anyone is welcome to walk around inside it, but parking is – again – astronomical. However, parking was free at ICE! so we left the car there and just walked over to the nearby hotel. We hadn’t eaten since breakfast, so dinner was our top priority. We got burgers from one of the restaurants and found a spot to sit and eat while we watched the fountain show.

Dinner gave us enough fuel to tour the rest of the hotel (and find our way around despite its maze-like qualities). Pictures cannot capture the grandeur of size or the general splendor, but we tried.

When we returned to the house, we found that Aaron Long had arrived for a visit as he was passing through town on tour, so we ended up staying up much too late discussing a vast and sometimes ridiculous array of topics. Good conversation with friends trumps sleep, after all.

Not surprisingly, Melissa and I were a little slow getting started on Tuesday morning. We decided to skip over breakfast entirely and apply our hunger directly to lunch at Loveless Café. It took a bit of a drive to get out there, and we were so hungry, but I knew this was another place that tended to have a long wait. To our delight, we were once again able to beat the odds and get seated straightaway, where we were soon chowing down on their wonderful biscuits and preserves, fried chicken, mac n cheese, and every heavenly thing. I feel like it would not be out of the question for me to take a trip to Nashville solely for the food. It’s that good.

There are shops located all around Loveless Café, and since we didn’t need to kill any time there waiting for a table, we instead walked around after lunch while our food settled, picking up souvenirs and getting a little goofy.

Aside from Loveless Café, our Tuesday itinerary featured two spots that were completely new to me as well as Melissa.

First, we went to Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art. They still had several art pieces on display on the very top floor of the museum, but in the majority of the building, they were having a special exhibit of “Christmas in Color,” wherein every room had a tree decked out to a specific color scheme.

I wasn’t sure Melissa would see the same allure I did in walking around looking at Christmas trees, it turns out, we both enjoyed it immensely.

This chandelier was leftover from the LIGHT exhibition that Cheekwood had hosted in the summer. The artist, Bruce Munro, let Cheekwood keep this piece on display after the close of the show.

Unfortunately, Melissa and I both discovered after coming home that our photos didn’t capture very well in the darker rooms of the museum, but you get the general idea. The purple tree was, of course, my favorite. The photo of the full tree didn’t turn out well, but the close-ups were lovely.

Since we were visiting in December, there wasn’t a lot to see on the grounds in the way of blooming flowers and trees, but we did find this tree house, where we had entirely too much fun.

After leaving Cheekwood, we didn’t have to go far to our next destination – Belle Meade Plantation and Winery. The grounds tour was nice, but my main interest was in touring the house itself, where their holiday exhibit was set up so that every room represented a different year in the history of Christmases in the home. We had bought our ticket for the last tour of the day, and when we met the guide on the porch, we were the only two there! We had our own private tour and the guide was knowledgeable, funny, and friendly, so he really made it worthwhile and we were able to ask any questions we wanted without feeling like we were holding up other people who might not be interested.

The tour was full of fascinating information on the evolution of attitudes about Christmas over the years – when it became more family-centric, when it began to be more geared toward children, why that song talks about presents “on” the tree, and about how Coca-Cola was responsible for turning Santa’s suit red as we know it today. History mixed with Christmas – I was in my element.

Tuesday night was our last night in Nashville, so I begged Heather to let me do the cooking so she could come home to dinner waiting. We also had a bonus guest for dinner – after years of corresponding in emails or on Facebook, I finally got to meet Jules in person!

It was nice to spend our last night as we’d spent the first one – just sitting and talking and happy to be among friends. I finally snapped some photos of the kids, too – documenting these ages before I blink and they’re in college!

Yes, Belle, too.

The first time I came to Nashville after Lincoln was born, I was sitting in the floor playing with him as he showed me all of his toys. He lost his balance and ended up falling backwards into his toy basket and got stuck. I did what I had to do, which was to photograph the moment before acquiescing to his toddler-speak: “Stuck! Help me!”

Heather pulled this basket out of the closet and said that we should recreate the moment. I was content with watching him play, and he showed no signs of slowing down, so I hadn’t made any comment about the basket to him. Luckily, my camera was in my lap when he started backing across the floor telling a story about the toy in his hand, and not realizing the basket was behind him, he bumped into it and fell right in, almost exactly as he had when he was a toddler. I got this photo quickly since he’d no longer require my assistance to get back out of the basket. I had to put these photos together:

It was a really nice trip and a fond farewell to Nashville for now. Next time I see the Weavers, their house will come rolling right into my parking lot!

Can You Tell That I’m Alive? Let Me Prove It To You.

I am three trips behind on updating the blog, but this post is the most belated, as it was Part 2 of the San Francisco trip in July 2013. I considered just skipping over it, but I refer back to these posts for the memories (and my mind isn’t even totally gone yet!) and sometimes share them with friends traveling to the same places who want some ideas on what to do and see. So, I’m going back in time to recap part 2 of my 4th of July trip with Jessica and Thai.

In fact, the whole trip was planned around a bucket list item for me – seeing The Avett Brothers play at Red Rocks, which they did on Saturday, July 6th, with Old Crow Medicine Show opening.

We flew from San Francisco to Denver early that morning, and while we didn’t relish waking up so early, it was fortunate that we’d chosen the earliest flight, because otherwise, we never would have made it to Denver that day. Just a few hours after we departed SFO, Asiana Airlines Flight 214 crashed on arrival and the airport was subsequently shut down. Naturally, our phones were off for the flight to Denver, and upon arrival, we rented a car and immediately drove up into the mountains beyond cell phone range. We had no idea anything had happened, and hadn’t received any of the texts or calls from friends and family back home who’d only heard there was a crash at SFO on the same morning they knew we were flying out. Luckily, more details came out and assuaged any fears, since we were flying out to Denver and not in from Asia.

Meanwhile, we remained blissfully unaware as we took in the beauty of the mountains on our slow climb up to my friend Liz’s place, where we settled in from our travels and everyone got acquainted.

Soon, it was time for me to drift back down the mountain to go to Red Rocks for the show. It was quite a workout to get from the parking lot up to the actual venue. Luckily, seeing The Avett Brothers is an “ain’t no mountain high enough” kind of situation, so I pressed on and found a perch where I could see the Denver skyline in the distance behind the stage.

Old Crow Medicine Show – themselves Virginia boys – opened up the night with their tune “Carry Me Back (to Virginia),” which brought a big smile to my face. I took it as a sign that the show was practically made for me, which is a nice feeling when you’ve flown across the country to see it!

Old Crow put on a great show, and those who’d shown up for them were rewarded with a great time. The stairs/seats at Red Rocks are great for dancing, which was a good thing for this show, because everyone was bursting at the seams with bluegrass-fueled energy.

The crowd filled in immensely while we waited for The Avett Brothers to emerge. About the time everyone was packed in like sardines, a guy came over to tell me that his seats were right there. I thought the whole show was General Admission, so I assumed he was joking and laughed. I turns out that there really was reserved seating for a higher price, and I had indeed encroached upon his seats.

As it would happen, the row right behind the one I’d chosen was where General Admission actually began. His friends had parked there while he walked down to find out what was going on. We sat there talking for a while and he learned that I was from Virginia and had just flown into Denver that day for the show. We covered a number of topics, and when the on-stage commotion suggested that The Avett Brothers were about to emerge, I started to move back and he stopped me and said, “This is your spot now. I’ll move back. Enjoy the show!” These are the kinds of situations that tend to come to blows at other shows, but I’ve never met a rude person at an Avett Brothers show. It’s an easy litmus test for a kind and generous heart if you encounter an Avett fan.

I guess this is the point where I would attempt to convey something about the show to you, but I cannot. Until you see The Avett Brothers live, you don’t know, and you will never know. So, go get a ticket, stir your soul, and make your life better.

Sunday morning, we set out to repeat the journey that Liz and I made on my first trip to Denver in 2010 via the Peak-to-Peak Scenic Byway. The views were new to Jessica and Thai, and I loved them so much the first time that I was happy to see them again.

When we stopped at the “Chapel on the Rock” (The Saint Catherine of Siena Chapel, once visited by Pope John Paul II), there was another family there touring as well, and one of them was sporting a Liberty sweatshirt. He was an online student. Small world!

We had a delicious lunch at the Bald Pate Inn, which is Liz’s favorite restaurant and inn. We had also eaten there before, and I was eager to return. I keep a postcard on my refrigerator to this day that Liz sent to me from there.

After lunch, we continued along the Peak-to-Peak until we arrived in Estes Park, where we walked around town and visited the various shops. We saw some folks tubing, and this photo doesn’t show it, but this river was running alongside a strip mall, which made it a comical scene.

I spotted this raccoon in one of the stores, and he obviously had to come home with me. I named him Rockie.

Of course, I had to make a return visit by this sign:

This is where Liz and I had ended our journey before, but to add something new, we continued on so we could go up to the Continental Divide, with some more great scenery along the way as we made the climb.

We rode up above the tree line where we saw patches of permafrost and elk laying around.

Up at the Continental Divide, there was a visitor’s center and folks hanging around in shorts and tank tops next to a wall of snow.

There was also an intimidating path leading up to the ACTUAL top of the Continental Divide, and nobody was feeling particularly energetic about making the climb. Liz went into the Visitor’s Center, everyone else stayed in the car, and I looked for a few minutes at that climb and decided that I had to seize the day. I may never return to that spot again, and I couldn’t go the rest of my life knowing I was that close to the top of the Continental Divide and didn’t face the challenge, so off I went!

It was a steep and long climb, but not terribly difficult aside from the lack of oxygen at that altitude where trees cannot even grow. A guy started the climb at about the same moment I did, so I thought I had myself a walking buddy, should one of us pass out along the way. However, about a third of the way up, he gave up and turned back. I moved ahead slowly, doing that awkward stair-walk that my knee injury allows, and I’d count off 20-30 steps and then stop to rest a bit. At least the views were nice.

I took this photo when I thought I was almost at the top. It looked like the top of the stairs ahead, which must’ve been the top, and I could surely make it. But, when I got to the top, I discovered that the stairs were ending, but the climb was not, and what I thought was the finish line was really about ¾ of the way up.

Luckily, every once in a while someone would walk down from the top and offer some encouragement that the climb was worth it in the end. They were correct. It was a great feeling to make it up and feel like I could have been standing on the top of the world.

There was one other guy up there when I arrived, and he said I had to have my picture taken after coming all that way.

When he left, I had the place to myself for few glorious minutes before I started my descent.

On the subsequent drive back down, traffic had jammed up as everyone was watching these elk.

We got to watch the sunset over the gorgeous landscape on the drive back to Liz’s place.

Liz had to leave town on business on Monday morning, so we got up to see her off before formulating a plan for the day. We were planning to drive out to Colorado Springs to see the Garden of the Gods, but figured we’d have time for at least one other activity in the day, so we googled spas and made ourselves appointments for massages and pedicures!

Our spa break was a great idea and we left there feeling rejuvenated for our visit to Garden of the Gods. The heat was almost suffocating, but Garden of the Gods was gorgeous enough to make it well worthwhile.

We had an afternoon flight out of Denver on Tuesday, so we packed up that morning and drove into Denver and picked up my friend Mel so we could all go to breakfast. We stuck out the heat again to walk around downtown a bit and enjoy Mel’s company before we had to leave for the airport.

It never fails that I wind up sprinting through the Charlotte airport to catch the last puddle-jumper back to Lynchburg, and this trip was no different, but we made it back, exhausted but happy from our journey.